Math and the Past.

As a college math teacher I have been experiencing an interesting phenomena. Many times students who are taught a simple concept or a rule that they actually already learned in the past (the rule for adding two fractions for example) do not learn the concept fully even though it is being repeated, drilled and re-taught many times. On the other hand, children who were never taught the concept learn it quickly. "What is the reason for this?", you may ask. I believe that often the reason for the problem lies in past experience of students. Once in a while a college student would share with me a story about his past hurt experience in math, either in elementary school, middle school, or high school. For example, Once I taught a College Algebra student who actually was successful in learning the new concepts that we studied in the class, but failed in the areas that she was familiar with. At the final exam that took place in a large auditorium the student froze and did was not able to complete the test and so I waited for her after everyone else left. After some time she came to me and said that she had a past memory flash back in her mind.

* "I am back in first grade, my first class.
The teacher explained some facts about numbers and every one seemed
to understand except me. I felt that there must me something awfully
wrong with my mind as far as learning math is concerned. I did not
realize that all the other children learning something in kindergarten
that I never did. From that day on, I was never able to learn math.
My mind was closed"*

Many times I go to a party or a gathering and someone asks about my profession, the answer "mathematician" , a typical response would be "Oh, I was never good at math". Often, when a student in my class solves a math problem successfully, rather than feeling good about it, a typical response is "Oh, that was too easy" (The hidden thought behind the response is something like "Since I am not good at math and I solved the problem, it must have been easy"

The following paragraphs are responses that students wrote from their own experiences:

*This is in response to your posting about learning about math:
I think that lack of confidence is something that often blocks students
from learning, and not just with math. It isn't necessarily a lack of their
ability that holds them back, rather it is a lack of confidence in who
they are. Since we were little kids, it hasn't been "cool" to be
smart, therefore, lots of kids who know the answer wont raise their hand
"too" quickly, or even at all. This doesn't concern just answers
to problems or questions presented by the teacher. It could be a
feeling of excitement and joy that they experience because they enjoy what
they are learning, or the fact that they are learning it at all, which
they repress because it simply isn't cool to be excited about learning.
I see it all the time in classes, the little smirks and raised eye-brows
that pass from one student to another when a professor is excited about
what they are sharing with the class. The look that says, "Woah, this guy/girl
is such a loser". Well, i have news for all those with raised eye-brows
or a snobbish smirk. The only losers those who hide what they are
and what they feel; for fear of others perception.*

This was written by the same student at another time:

*I've never actually been truly scared of math, however I have found
it to*
* be frustrating from time to time. By taking this class
I have gained self-*
* confidence that I didn't feel in the beginning and I really
am having fun!*
* At first it seemed like it would take me days to solve what
seemed to be a*
* simple math problem, but as time goes on the amount of time
it is taking*
* me to solve these problems has become shorter and shorter.
I no longer*
* carry on my shoulders that anxious, I have to get it now,
feeling that I*
* once had. With self-confidence I know that I will solve
the problem and it*
* doesn't matter if it's right this minute, tomorrow, or even
the next day. I*
* know that it will happen, I just need to relax.*

*To sum it up:*

*Math can be hard (negative), math can be simple (positive), math
can be*
*frustrating (negative), and math can be fun (positive)! It
all equals out in*
*the end! One thing for sure - math is only as SCARY as you
make it!*