This past summer, I took an incredibly good online course called How to Learn Math by Professor Jo Boaler at Stanford University. Its focus is on research on math learning and student mindsets that can transform students' experiences with math.
Near the beginning of the course, Jo Boaler and some of her students talked about some reasons why people often dislike math classes. As a response task, she asked us to summarize the reasons discussed with a concept map. I groaned, because although I am circumspect about sharing this view in education classes, I've despised concept maps ever since first trying one. I believed they must be useful for someone somewhere, so I've occasionally used them in teaching out of a sense of duty, but I consistently felt that rather than highlighting connections and promoting thought, they just resulted in a big muddled blob of words.
Nevertheless, I can comply with educational directives, so I gave it a whirl. To my astonishment, this concept map assignment actually clarified my thinking and made me see things in a new way. But before I get to that, here's the concept map in question:
Thanks partly to wonderful math education classes with Kasi Allen at Lewis & Clark, and partly to my own observations, none of these ideas were new to me, and I think about all of them a lot already. The breakthrough for me, though, was in seeing that the "boring/irrelevant" impressions of math and the "math is not for me because..." impressions of math are really two separate strands. Improving my teaching to address only one strand would help reach some students, but would leave others with their math hatred untouched. The interconnections in each strand might lead to a positive kind of snowball effect within that strand -- for instance, if I help students not to feel ignored and excluded in math because they belong to a certain group, their math anxiety will be reduced -- but to reach all math haters, I really need to make certain I am working on both strands.
If you want to comment, I'd love to know what you think about my concept math epiphany or what you feel is missing from the reasons students hate math. I was surprised they didn't talk about standardized tests or about the feeling that in math answers are right or wrong without any gray areas (an impression some people find reassuring but many find terrifying), but since they didn't, I left it out of my concept map assignment.