Friday, July 16, 2010

Poll: Why do students struggle with math?

About five years ago, my advanced calculus professor told me that everyone has a threshold level of math where they just cannot get it. According to him, many people stop studying math because they reach a point of abstraction where it no longer makes sense. In other words, much of math ability is innate. Or, to the extent that it was conditioned by our environment, we were imprinted with a certain level of math ability a long time ago, and no matter what we do today, we can't change it.

In my past teaching experiences, however, I have run into quite the opposite. Students report that math does not make sense, but they say this because they're frustrated. They want to give up, but not because they are incapable. It is because they're bored, uninterested, or embarrassed. When they say, "I can't get it," what they really mean is that it is inordinately difficult to concentrate on something so frustrating. Given enough time and persistence, my experience tells me that these students eventually get it.

Then again, I haven't taught advanced calculus, and my advanced calculus professor was one of the smartest guys I have met. I respect his opinion a great deal, so I'm conflicted.

That brings me to my poll question of the week:

Why do students struggle with math?

(a) Some people are not good at math.
(b) Bad preparation.
(c) No interest / time.
(d) English is more interesting

As with all polls, this one is open for a week. So, vote early and often (on the sidebar -->). For the law of large numbers to kick in, I need lots of you to vote, so tell your friends and neighbors to vote. I'm interested in seeing what you have to say.


  1. Here's Richard Feynman on why some students like science and others don't (just the first minute):

  2. 4 said "not good at it"
    2 said "bad preparation"
    4 said "no interest / time"
    0 said "English is more interesting"


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