A few weeks ago, I had the honor of presenting to over 300 early learning professionals on what is really becoming my passion, the idea of mathematizing children’s environments and making connections between the math they experience while at school and the math that they experience in their daily lives.
Though I would love to elaborate on my presentation and all I shared, I am going to forgo that for now and focus on teacher’s beliefs and attitudes towards mathematics.
Knowing that not all these early learning professionals would be as excited as I to spend a whole day in math training (4 sessions focusing on math in the early learning classroom), I had teachers take a strip of paper and write down their feelings about math, I wanted them to do a mental mind dump of their feelings about math so that they could enjoy and engage in the tasks I had planned for them. This activity really helped in setting the stage for engaging all my participants as mathematicians.
Upon returning to my office, my colleagues and I began sorting the responses. It’s safe to say we definitely saw some emerging themes, ranging from the negative, downright hatred of math, to a very positive and genuine love of math. Some chose to write about their personal experiences both good and bad as a means to justify the way they felt, about either their like of certain mathematical concepts or about their changing attitudes about math. Here are some excerpts taken directly from their responses:
“I like math, it allows me to practice my critical thinking.”
“I find math interesting and challenging. It’s like a puzzle you can manipulate to find the exact element.”
“Math is important because you need it every day in life when dealing with people, space, purchasing, quantity and etc.”
“I have always liked math and feel that children learn so much more from it.”
“I always hated math.”
“My dislike of math began in the 2nd grade. Math scares me I just don’t understand it.”
“Math gave me A LOT of anxiety in school and college. It was very challenging for me, math is not my favorite subject.”
“Math is a foreign language to me that I do not understand.”
These are just a few of the 300 plus comments I collected. As I work alongside teachers this year, my hope is that teachers who have positive feelings will discover new ways to encourage their children to develop excitement and enthusiasm about math. For those who have negative feelings, I hope that we can work together to change their math story into one that fosters positivity and empowerment, that contributes to their development of a positive identity as sense-makers and problems solvers and having a greater appreciation of the content. If teachers see themselves as doers of mathematics then I foresee children engaging in the mathematics which arise naturally in their everyday environments both inside and outside of the classroom.