I don’t hate math, that is just the title of the post – notice that I put it in quotes.
As you may know, I teach this physics course for elementary education majors (using Physics and Everyday Thinking – which is awesome). The curriculum has very little math in it. That is not necessarily a good thing, but it helps the students understand science and the nature of science without bringing in this mental block they have for math. One of the activities has them look at the energy efficiency of different devices. At the end of the activity, they are asked:
A fluorescent bulb is 25% efficient. A regular 100 Watt bulb produces 8 Watts of light energy. What kind of power would a fluorescent bulb need to have the same light output as a regular 100 Watt bulb?
I like this problem. It is a real problem, uses real math and doesn’t just say plug into some equation. There are many students that enjoy problems like this, but for others it causes them to hit a wall.
Here is a typical conversation I have in this class for this activity (this is a very typical conversation – really you could consider it a composite of many student conversations).
Student: “I hate math”
Me:“You hate math? Really?”
Student: “I don’t hate math. I just hate this kind of math. If you just give me the formula, I won’t hate math.”
Me: “Well, if I give you the formula and you plug stuff in, that isn’t really math. I guess that would be arithmetic.”
Student:“Well, whatever you call it, I hate it.”
Me: “Ok. You can’t say that. Maybe you think you hate, but you can’t say that. You are going to be a teacher, right? As a teacher of young children you have a great power, a great influence on what they think. If you hate math, they are going to hate math. Remember, with a great power comes a greater responsibility.”
I hope the students that say stuff like this don’t think that I am angry. I am not. I just want them to be careful with kids.
There is another point. Can I change their attitudes towards math? I don’t know. Maybe I can change their attitudes by having a positive attitude myself. I don’t think I can change the course to work on math – we are busy enough working on ideas about science.