Raising Math People

I am not a math person.

How many times have you heard this phrase? I hear it almost every time I mention ‘math’ in a conversation – which, as an educator who loves math, is as often as I can get people to listen to me.

My interest in creating math people started a few years ago when I was spending a lot of time in high school math classrooms. I was amazed by the number of students who deeply believed that they were bad at math, and I was saddened that most of them had developed this belief as early as elementary school. As I looked further into this issue, I found that my students were not alone. Math anxiety is pervasive in American classrooms.

The fact that students grow up thinking they are not math people is a problem. The skills that form the core of mathematical thinking – problem solving, thinking flexibly and creatively, finding patterns and justifying your conclusions – are critical to succeeding in today’s world and solving big problems. Additionally, math achievement in school has been linked to many factors of success, such as attending college and job earnings. If we are not raising math people, we are limiting our children’s futures.

I found myself talking about this with friends and family on repeat:

In order to equip our children to dream big and pursue their dreams, we must raise math people.

I was surprised at how many of these adults echoed my students’ feelings:

I’ve never been good at math.

Numbers just never made sense to me.

These conversations fueled my desire to continue digging. After pouring over research articles and books, I landed on one factor that I would argue has the most power but the least support: parents.

If you’ve ever said I have never been good at math, you’re not alone. Research shows that the majority of adults have some level of math anxiety. While this is an unfortunate fact on its own, a study by Erin Maloney and colleagues (2015) also shows that a parent’s fear of math can directly impact the relationship their child has with math. Children who hear negative messages about math at home are less likely to develop their own confidence in math. 

I see a dangerous feedback loop in these relationships:

But I also see the potential to create change. What if the loop looked like this:

The goal of this blog is to equip you with the knowledge and resources you need to raise your child to love math, or at least not be afraid of it. Yes, there will be some math, but don’t let that scare you! I will do my best to make this journey fun, interesting and inspiring. And who knows, maybe you’ll become a math person along the way. 

References:

Boaler, Jo. Parents’ Beliefs about Math Change Their Children’s Achievement, Youcubed. Accessed 11 August 2020, https://www.youcubed.org/evidence/parents-beliefs-math-change-childrens-achievement/.

Maloney, E. A., Ramirez, G., Gunderson, E. A., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2015). Intergenerational effects of parents’ math anxiety on children’s math achievement and anxiety. Psychological Science, 0956797615592630.

Luttenberger, S., Paechter, M, Wimmer, S. (2018). Spotlight on math anxiety Psychol Res Behav Manag, 11: 311–322.

Willingham, Daniel. (21 Nov 2019). Opinion: Math scares your child’s elementary school teacher — and that should frighten you. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from newspaper: http://www.latimes.com.

2 thoughts on “Raising Math People

  1. Rachel I agree. I have been teaching High School Math for 28 years. When I tell people I’m a math teacher, the first thing I USUALLY here is ooh I hated math. If we could get people just to stop saying that to their kids, that would be half the battle.

    Like

    1. That is amazing – 28 years! I am so grateful for the work you do every day. And it’s so true – if we can help kids enter school with a positive (or even neutral) relationship with math, that will be a game changer.

      Like

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