Calculating a love of math

Do you like math? We tend to feel strongly one way or another, and likely your decision rides on your experiences in the classroom.

“Mathematics itself is fairly neutral,” says Jim Middleton, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “There is no reason to either love or hate mathematics outside the experiences we have in and out of school along with the cultural attitudes.”

When students’ enjoyment and understanding of math falters, so do the possibilities of STEM courses and career paths that require higher math in those student’s futures.

To keep math and STEM careers a possibility for all students, Middleton and Amanda Jansen, a professor of mathematics education in the School of Education at the University of Delaware, are studying what contributes to positive student engagement and therefore effective learning.

“These dynamics are not well understood, and as a consequence, mathematics curriculum and instruction in the U.S. is not serving the majority of students well,” Middleton says.

This ASU-UD team is the first to research moment-to-moment experiences of high school students studying mathematics over time as part of their three-year, $1.3 million National Science Foundation-funded study, “Secondary Mathematics, in-the-moment, Longitudinal Engagement Study.”

“We recognized a lack of research that could address, methodologically, how to investigate students’ experiences in the moment to understand the nature of their engagement with mathematics in a way that could reveal more general trends,” Jansen says.

By understanding these processes, they plan to help teachers to encourage more students to engage deeply, work hard, persist and become more mathematically capable.

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