When I meet someone new and get asked what I do for a living, I’ve noticed that 9 out of 10 people go from smiling to cringing when they hear me say that I’m a high school math teacher. They then go on to tell me how much they disliked math when they were in school, and just couldn’t get it or do well in it. I’ve started to wonder why, for the most part, people have had a bad experience with math when they were in school. Something is wrong when the majority of people hate a particular school subject much more than all the others. In this blog post, I’m going to discuss the possible reasons for why math is one of the most hated subjects.
There is no denying that math is considered one of the most important school subjects. Students are encouraged by guidance counselors and parents to take math throughout high school because it is a requirement for so many university programs. It is very common for students to get pressured into taking math even though they dislike it and don’t find it interesting. I often hear people complaining that their parents made them take math even though they didn’t want to, and they still have a hard time forgiving them for it.
I believe the reason why math is disliked by so many is because it hasn’t been taught right in the past. Teachers and admin at learning institutions have realized over the last decade that math can be taught in a much more engaging way. There has been a shift over the last decade in the way that math is taught, but many teachers still continue to teach math using outdated teaching methodologies because that is the way that they were taught in school and what they are used to.
In the past, math was taught in such a manner that students could never understand why they would need to know what they were learning in the long run. A lot of topics had little relevance to the real world, and students found it hard to relate to what they were learning and when they would ever need to use what they were learning. Many of the concepts were abstract with little relevance to something concrete. In the past, a typical lesson involved copying what the teacher wrote on the board for the majority of class and then having a little bit of time to complete a worksheet of repetitive questions. Students had little time to work together and get extra help from the teacher. The lessons were too teacher-directed, and students were rarely given the opportunity to try to discover principles on their own.
Students that had difficulty following what the teacher was explaining day-to-day would fall behind. And this was very detrimental to their success in the class because math is so sequential. If one didn’t understand the concepts that came before, they would struggle to understand concepts that came afterward. Teachers in the past also didn’t do a good job of checking if each student understood what was being covered because they spent most of the class teaching the concepts, and would occasionally ask the class questions, in which instances, the students that were excelling in the class would usually answer the questions, giving the teacher a false sense of most students understanding what was being taught.
Oftentimes, students don’t get to see the beauty of math. That it is more of an art than a science. Sadly, the beauty of math starts to only become apparent when one is somewhat proficient in it. Many students don’t reach that point because they might be overwhelmed by the amount of practice required to become good at math, and might also lose interest in math if the teachers that they have are not passionate about the subject. In the past, many elementary and middle school teachers that were required to teach math, because it is a core subject, didn’t have a strong grasp of it. Consequently, they didn’t teach it well or make their students interested in it. For this reason, when students made the transition to high school they didn’t have much interest in math or had a poor foundation in it. The poor foundation and disinterest prevented them from excelling in math and seeing its value and applicability to the real world.
A new approach to teaching math and science that is becoming more and more popular in classrooms in Canada and other parts of the world is inquiry-based teaching. An inquiry-based lesson involves students working to solve authentic, real world problems – problems that an engineer or a person making investments would have to solve. It is a student-centred approach that relies on a teacher acting as a facilitator of learning rather than a lecturer. Students are encouraged to discover the underlying principles of what they are learning through investigations that encourage cooperation. The goal of inquiry-based learning is for students to be active participants of the learning process. What makes this approach so effective is that it always gives the teacher plenty of time to circulate around the classroom and check that students are making progress. The teacher would teach a small group of students at a time rather than the whole class.
I’m optimistic about the future of math education. The next generations of math teachers will be taught to teach math using much more progressive teaching methodologies, which will result in more student engagement and achievement in the subject. I’m looking forward to the day when most people have a positive reaction to me being a math teacher.