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Mon Nov 4, 2013, 05:44 AM

The Myth of 'I'm Bad at Math'

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/the-myth-of-im-bad-at-math/280914/

"I’m just not a math person.”

We hear it all the time. And we’ve had enough. Because we believe that the idea of “math people” is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career. Worse, you may be helping to perpetuate a pernicious myth that is harming underprivileged children—the myth of inborn genetic math ability.

Is math ability genetic? Sure, to some degree. Terence Tao, UCLA’s famous virtuoso mathematician, publishes dozens of papers in top journals every year, and is sought out by researchers around the world to help with the hardest parts of their theories. Essentially none of us could ever be as good at math as Terence Tao, no matter how hard we tried or how well we were taught. But here’s the thing: We don’t have to! For high-school math, inborn talent is much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence.

The results? Convincing students that they could make themselves smarter by hard work led them to work harder and get higher grades. The intervention had the biggest effect for students who started out believing intelligence was genetic. (A control group, who were taught how memory works, showed no such gains.)

<znip<

But improving grades was not the most dramatic effect, “Dweck reported that some of her tough junior high school boys were reduced to tears by the news that their intelligence was substantially under their control.” It is no picnic going through life believing you were born dumb—and are doomed to stay that way.

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Arrow 12 replies Author Time Post
Reply The Myth of 'I'm Bad at Math' (Original post)
eridani Nov 2013 OP
TexasProgresive Nov 2013 #1
adirondacker Nov 2013 #2
gopiscrap Nov 2013 #3
adirondacker Nov 2013 #4
gopiscrap Nov 2013 #5
TexasProgresive Nov 2013 #7
adirondacker Nov 2013 #8
eridani Nov 2013 #6
adirondacker Nov 2013 #9
duffyduff Nov 2013 #10
texshelters Nov 2013 #11
LWolf Nov 2013 #12

Response to eridani (Original post)

Mon Nov 4, 2013, 07:35 AM

1. My theory is

That for many "non-math" people it goes back to an early non-learning experience. That is, poor teachers who did not teach math but terrorized her/his students. Math is such a cumulative subject that if one loses out early they have a near impossible task to get back on track.

My high school sweetheart is a perfect example of a victim of poor teaching. She was enrolled in plane and solid geometry to be taught by a teacher who had a poor reputation. I acquired a copy of the book used and tutored her by phone. (This was good as we keep on track and hands off of each other).

The teacher did not teach- she had pets, those who got it without teaching and the rest of the class were made to feel substandard. That my girl friend made good grades in that class is something I remember with pride. The best part is that her spirit was not squashed. Wherever she is I hope her life is good.

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Response to TexasProgresive (Reply #1)

Mon Nov 4, 2013, 06:29 PM

2. That is really outstanding of you, and you have my highest respects.

I had a total prick with a napolean complex for Jr High math (algebra). Right winger, of course, and almost scarred me for life. I was going through enough on a personal level that I just said fuck it.

A young college tutor I had explained it best. "If you can add, subtract, multiply, and divide you can do Any math. It's just a matter of remembering the rules and how they apply."
She was a sweetheart who I won't forget. My college profs were outstanding and patient as well.

I managed to get through enough to get my BS.

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Response to adirondacker (Reply #2)

Mon Nov 4, 2013, 07:24 PM

3. I had an asshole math teacher in high school

but survived. I love computational math!

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Response to gopiscrap (Reply #3)

Mon Nov 4, 2013, 07:51 PM

4. It must have been a prerequisite for the job during our generation (the shitty math teacher)

I like geometry and stats, but mostly enjoy when the computer does the calculations. Thanks! Plug and Chug

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Response to adirondacker (Reply #4)

Mon Nov 4, 2013, 07:53 PM

5. yeah it might have been

but in lower grades, I had some pretty cool math teachers.

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Response to adirondacker (Reply #4)

Mon Nov 4, 2013, 09:07 PM

7. That brings up another memory

My Mom made here living as a mathematician and scientific programmer detested statistics. She came close to failing it. HMMM!!! maybe that's where I get my stubborn, stupid streak. I failed HS physics because I hated the teacher. How stupid is that?

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Response to TexasProgresive (Reply #7)

Mon Nov 4, 2013, 09:37 PM

8. Interesting...

I think there is "some" wiring that makes certain things interesting to certain people. I'm definitely a spatial and deductive thinker that loves 3d modeling. I enjoy it to the point of obtaining data, compiling, and performing volumetric calculations, along with making pretty pictures. I'll leave the point cloud interpolation models to the likes of your mom

Yeah, teachers make a difference. One of my math profs was a part timer at college and full time High School teacher. He received
the microsoft innovative teacher of the year award. He wrote his own curriculum. He was crazy good in his approach, which was to instill real life situations to problem solve along with being highly entertaining. I always thought that his HS students were some of the luckiest kids on the planet and hope they appreciated it.

I was fine with physics through Newton. Spacetime was another matter.

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Response to TexasProgresive (Reply #1)

Mon Nov 4, 2013, 08:57 PM

6. "Math is such a cumulative subject" Indeed

Last edited Mon Nov 4, 2013, 10:35 PM - Edit history (1)

If you can't keep up in the first chapter, you are screwn for all subsequent chapters. That's why I think math needs to be individualized so that you can't go on to step 2 unless you have mastered step 1. It isn't like history, where if you screw up the test on WW I, you can always make it up on WW II.

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Response to eridani (Reply #6)

Mon Nov 4, 2013, 09:42 PM

9. Precisely! There Are Rules that cannot be broken. It took me a while to figure that out :) nt

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Response to eridani (Original post)

Thu Nov 7, 2013, 06:09 PM

10. Yeah, right, it's all the teacher's fault.

 

Well, no. What we have today is a LOT of age-inappropriate curriculum being crammed down kids' throats to guarantee they will fail.

This all has to do with child development. Many, many, many people aren't good at math as kids because they haven't yet developed the cognitive ability to think abstractly. They don't really get that until high school, if not later on.

Unfortunately, kids today are being taught in middle school and even elementary school concepts for which most CANNOT grasp. It's on purpose to make them fail.

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Response to eridani (Original post)

Fri Nov 8, 2013, 10:11 PM

11. True

With the exception of a few learning disabled students I have, everyone can learn math with some effort and if they have the time to do so.

PTxS

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Response to eridani (Original post)

Sun Nov 10, 2013, 01:43 PM

12. I'm bad at math.

Yet, to some degree, I AM a math person. I'm bad at math because my weakest area involves spatial things. I'm also pretty bad at Chess.

I'm fine with arithmetic; I have better mental math skills than most.

When math steps out of the concrete and into the abstract, though, I get lost and confused. I always have.

I could DO it, when forced to, to get through school. Not without what, to me, was an excessive amount of time, stress, and hard work. And, since I didn't use it for anything after college, I lost most of the gains.

Abstracts? I'm great with them when they involve ideas, rather than numbers or space.

I also freely admit that I had zero interest, other than wanting to pass classes with good grades, in memorizing theorems, formulas, etc.. I simply couldn't bring myself to care enough to embed them into my understanding, rather than my short-term memory.

I'm a math person because, when I started teaching elementary grades, I wanted to be sure that I didn't pass my ambivalence for math onto students. So I sought out non-traditional, non-textbook ways of teaching, and discovered that I actually liked math, and enjoyed doing it. And so did my students. They never guessed that I grew up "bad at math" and "just not a math person," and they all loved the portion of our day spent on math.

Having long since moved on to older students, I don't teach math anymore. I am, more appropriately, placed teaching humanities, which I have a strong natural affinity for.

I do, interestingly enough, still occasionally counsel elementary teachers about math instruction. Only when they contact me and ask, lol.

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