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Causes of Negative Attitudes Toward Mathematics

Causes of Negative Attitudes Toward Mathematics

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Causes of Negative 1 Introduction “I’m not good at math”, “I hate math” or “math is too hard” are common phrases

heard by teachers and parents. “One of the curious aspects of our society is that it is socially acceptable to take pride in not being good in mathematics” (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM], 1991). Where do these attitudes and beliefs come from? Can they be changed? Through reviewing literature, three main ideas surfaced as possible reasons students dislike math: math anxiety, lack of motivation in mathematics, and a negative attitude toward mathematics.

Math Anxiety Math anxiety is a condition in which students experience negative reactions to mathematical concepts and evaluation methods (Cates & Rhymer, 2003). Math anxiety can lead to several consequences. For example, Suinn and Richardson (1972) found that mathematics anxiety may prevent students from pursuing higher-level math courses and HO, Senturk, Lam, Zimmer, Hong, Okamoto, Chui, Nakazawa, & Wang (2000, p.362) stated, “math anxiety has been found to have a negative relationship with mathematics performance and achievement.” Anxious individuals may avoid mathematics classes, may be more likely to have negative attitudes toward mathematic related activities, or if they become elementary teachers, may not spend as much time teaching mathematics as their less anxious colleagues (Ho et al., 2000). Several studies have

Causes of Negative 2 proposed that math anxiety has two dimensions: affective (nervousness, tension, dread, fear) and cognitive (worry) (Meece, Wigfield, & Eccles, 1990; Wigfield & Meece, 1988; Ho et al., 2000). Ho et al. conducted a study across three nations consisting of 671 sixth grade students from China (211, 92 girls and 119 boys), Taiwan (214, 106 girls and 108 boys), and the United States (246, 111 girls and 135 boys). The focus in this study was to address the differential predictions of the affective and cognitive factors of math anxiety for mathematics achievement. For the anxiety measure the MAQ (Math Anxiety Questionnaire) was used. It contained 11 items using a Likert scale and contained items in the cognitive and affective dimensions. For the math achievement dimension, two similar tests were given 4 to 6 weeks apart with reliability coefficient of .82. One third of the items were from textbooks, one-third from another cross-national study, and the other third developed by the researchers. The relationship between the affective math anxiety factor and achievement showed a strong negative effect (p<.05). Cognitive anxiety was inconsistent across the samples. China and U.S. samples were not significant, whereas, Taiwan had significant and positive effects (p<.05) from cognitive anxiety. Analysis of the gender interaction showed only Taiwan had significant effect with girls having higher affective anxiety (p<.05). Taiwanese and U.S. girls had higher cognitive anxiety (p<.05) than Taiwanese and U.S. boys. Gender differences in China were not significant. In mathematics achievement only the main effect for

Causes of Negative 3 nation was significant (p<.05). Gender and interaction of gender by nation were not significant. The results suggest that the affective factors of math anxiety are consistently related to mathematics achievement, while the cognitive factors yield inconsistent results. Ho et al. (2000) conclusion is that the affective dimension of math anxiety correlates more strongly with negative performance than does the cognitive dimension. Meece, Wigfield, & Eccles (1990) conducted a 2-year long longitudinal study that focuses on the influence of math anxiety on students' course enrollment plans and performance in math. The study had two goals; to identify important predictors of math anxiety and assess the predictive influence math anxiety has on enrollment plans. The sample included 250 students in 7th through 9th grade at predominantly white middle-class suburban communities. The 7th and 8th grade students were enrolled in classes of approximately equal difficulty. Ninth grade students were enrolled in regular algebra or advanced algebra. Seven students were enrolled in a slow-paced algebra class. Questionnaires were administered in the spring of year one and two. The Student Attitude Survey (SAQ) was used which contains items to assess students expectancies for success, perceived values, perceived ability, perceived effort, perceived task difficulty in both math and English, and several other items. Most items were assessed using two or more 7 point Likert scale items. Predictor variables were divided into three factors. The perceived math ability measure consists of three items tapping students' sense of their math

Causes of Negative 4 ability and how well they were doing in math. The expectancies measure consists of two items asking students how well they expected to do in their current math class. The importance measure consists of items asking students to rate how important it is for them to do well at math and to get good grades. The SAQ also includes an item asking students to indicate whether they would take more math classes in the future if they were not required. A measure of math anxiety was included in the second year of the study. It contained 11 items to assess cognitive (concern about doing well in math) and negative affective dimensions of math anxiety. Math achievement information was collected on each student for both years from school records. The final grade for each year was used. The study suggests those students' current performance expectancies in mathematics (highly significant at p<.01) and to a lesser extent perceived importance of mathematics have the strongest direct effect on their anxiety and are stronger predictors of performance and course enrollment than math anxiety. Their findings also support the idea that it is the students’ interpretations of their achievement outcomes and not the outcomes themselves that have the strongest effects on students' affective reactions to achievement. Other studies have focused on the effect anxiety has on achievement. In one such study, Ma (1999) conducted a meta-analysis consisting of 26 individual studies that investigated the relationship between math anxiety and achievement in math. The population

Causes of Negative 5 correlation for the relationship between math anxiety and math achievement between the studies was significant (p<.01). The U3 statistic corresponding to the population correlation is .71. This indicates that “the measures (or treatments) that resulted in movement of a typical student in the group of high anxiety into the group of low anxiety would be associated with improvement of the typical students level of achievement from the 50th percentile to the 71st percentile” (Ma, 1999, p. 528). This study suggests that there is a significant relationship between anxiety and achievement. It also quantified the potential improvement when anxiety is reduced. “Most studies have emphasized addressing affective factors, but the significance of the relationship indicates the value of addressing the cognitive based treatments (eg. Skill development, overcoming their cognitive difficulties in the learning of math)” (Ma, 1999). Cates & Rymer (2003) conducted a study that builds on MA’s (1999) meta-analysis study, by connecting it to the learning hierarchy. The learning hierarchy suggests that there are four stages of learning: acquisition, fluency, generalization, and adaptation. Their purpose was to investigate the extent to which level of math anxiety may be related to a more advanced stage of the learning Hierarchy than to the initial acquisition stage by assessing fluency as opposed to overall accuracy. The study involved fifty-two college students taking an introductory psychology. They were given the FSMAS (a mathematics anxiety test) and divided into a low anxiety group and a high anxiety group. These groups

Causes of Negative 6 were then given a timed math probe with multiple operations including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and linear equations. The results showed a significant difference (p<.05) on fluency between high and low anxiety groups. “Students with lower anxiety completed more digits correct per minute an all probes. There was no significant difference in error rates between high and low anxiety groups. Both groups were equally accurate on basic mathematics operations” (Cates & Rymer, 2003, p 30). These results suggest that fluency in math may be more related to math anxiety than overall performance. In other words, math anxiety may increase with problem complexity. One implication is that as students progress through high school and classes become more complex their anxiety level will increase.

Motivation Motivation can be divided into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is desire to obtain rewards for academic tasks, such as grades, or avoid punishments. "Academic intrinsic motivation is the drive or desire of the student to engage in learning "for its own sake” (Middleton & Spanias, 1999). Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi (1995) conducted a study to answer questions related to motivation. First, is quality of experience when doing mathematics more dependent on ability or motivational characteristics?

Causes of Negative 7 Second, are subject-matter-specific measures of motivation more predictive of quality of experience and achievement than general measures of motivation? Third, do motivational characteristics and quality of experience when doing mathematics predict achievement in mathematics independently of ability? The study included 108 freshman and sophomores from two suburban high schools. From the 108 students, teachers nominated students they thought were talented in one or more subject matters. Students were given a questionnaire to gauge interest in mathematics and achievement motivation. Ability was measured by scores on the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test). Quality of experience was measured using the Experience Sampling Method (ESM). This method provides the subject a pager and throughout the day whenever the subject is signaled they fill out the questionnaire. Semester grades were used as an indicator of mathematics achievement. Students who were talented in mathematics had significantly higher (p<.001) values for mathematic ability, better grades for the first four years, and a higher course level than those talented in other subjects. The results clearly indicate that interest was the strongest predictor of quality of experience in the mathematics class (Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi, 1995). Specifically, interest showed significant relations to potency (p<.01), intrinsic motivation (p<.05), selfesteem (p<.01), and perception of skill (p<.001). “Surprisingly, level of mathematic ability was not related to experience at all” (Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi, 1995, p. 173). This study suggests that teachers should

Causes of Negative 8 create more interest in order to improve motivation. Wiess (cited in Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi, 1995), for example, found that teachers tend to emphasize learning facts and principles and to develop a systematic approach to problem solving. Their methods were lecture, discussion, and seatwork. These approaches however, may not create much interest in mathematics. Anderson (2007) conducted a qualitative study to address “the notion of identity, drawn from the social theories of learning as a way to view students as they develop as mathematics learners” (p. 7). The students in this study were participants in a larger study of students’ enrollment in advanced mathematics classes. Fourteen students were selected from one high school for semi-structured interviews. Two groups were formed: students enrolled in Precalculus or Calculus and students not taking a mathematics course that year. All of the students had taken the two required and any elective high school mathematics in the same high school. “One teacher taught most of these courses. When interviewed, this teacher indicated the ‘traditional’ nature of the curriculum and pedagogy: ‘We’ve always stayed pretty traditional… We haven’t really changed it to the really ‘out there’ hands-on type of programs.’” (Anderson, 2007, p. 78) Anderson (2007) describes the four faces of mathematics identity (how we define ourselves and how others define us as mathematics learners) as engagement (direct experiences in the classroom), imagination (envisioning how activities fit into the big picture), alignment (how the

Causes of Negative 9 curriculum fits with future plans), and nature (abilities we’re born with). From the interviews, the social learning theory, and previous studies conclusions are drawn about how the four faces impact a students’ mathematic identity. “Some students may not identify themselves as being a ‘math person.’ Students may mistakenly believe that they are unable to learn mathematics or they weren’t born with the genetics needed to be good at math, but scientific evidence does not support these ideas” (Anderson, 2007, p. 8). While all four faces contribute to the formation of students’ identities as mathematics learners, the nature face provides the most unsound and unfounded explanations for students’ participation in the mathematics community. To allow for the development of all students to identify as mathematics learners, students and teachers must discount the nature face and build on the other three faces of identity (Anderson, 2007, p. 11). “Mathematical tasks that engage students in doing mathematics, making meaning of mathematics, and generating their own solutions to complex mathematical problems can be beneficial in engaging students and supporting their identity as mathematics learners” (NCTM, 1991). Anderson (2007) suggests that to increase interest, instruction should involve more active and student-centered activities. “Teachers can reinforce the idea that mathematics is an interesting subject, used in other disciplines, and is an admission ticket for colleges and careers. Teachers

Causes of Negative 10 could have working professionals to visit the classes and share how they use mathematics in their profession” (Anderson, 2007 p. 12). Stipek, Salmon, Givvin, & Kazemi (1998) ask the question: What are the associations between teaching practices, student motivation and mathematics learning? In their study, twenty-four 4th through 6th grade teachers were selected from schools in a large urban ethnically diverse area. Three groups were formed. Two groups had expressed a commitment to implementing reforms and agreed to teach using a reform-oriented unit on fractions. One of those groups was given training on implementing reforms. The third group taught using standard methods and textbooks and expressed no interest in reforms. Six hundred ninety four (694) students of diverse ethnic backgrounds participated. Each teacher was videotaped for at least two periods and evaluated for teaching practices and a questionnaire was given asking teachers about their assessment practices. Students completed a questionnaire twice: once before the intervention and once after the unit on fractions related to motivational dimensions. Students were also evaluated from the videotapes of the classroom. Students were assessed on fractions from routine to conceptually challenging. Tests were given at the beginning of the year and after the fractions unit. The effects on student motivation based on teacher practices were significant between help seeking (p<.001) and enjoyment (p<.05) with the positive affective practices of the teacher. The effects were also significant for positive emotions (p<.05), enjoyment

Causes of Negative 11 (p<.05) and learning conceptual items (p<.05) with the learning orientation practices of the teacher. The learning orientation of the teacher refers to the teacher giving timely and substantive feedback and focuses on improvement and mastery over grades. The study suggests that the affective climate is a strong predictor of students’ motivation and fosters mastery orientation in students. “Students’ feeling of relatedness to their teachers was strong predictors of their cognitive, behavioral, and emotional engagement in classroom activities” (Stipek et al., 1998 p. 483). Davis, Maher, and Noddings (1990) gave this example: Jaime Escalante, the real-life hero of the film Stand and Deliver, insists that he must teach his students for three years if they are to succeed in AP calculus. He conscientiously builds relations of care and trust with each student. He shows steady concern for the integral development of his students – how they are doing in English, how their home lives are going, what jobs and sports they

participate in. This attitude and effort that accompanies it are part of teaching mathematics. As we build such relations, our students learn to trust us. When the work is not as exciting as we’d like it to be or when they have low moments (as we all do), students will often persist in mathematical endeavors for their teacher. “Okay, if you say so. I’ll do it - just for you” (p. 191). Middleton & Spanias (1999) conducted a review of literature to

Causes of Negative 12 “describe theoretical orientations guiding research in mathematics motivation and to discuss findings in terms of how they facilitate or inhibit achievement" (p. 65). The conclusions are as follows: “students' perception of success in mathematics are highly influential in forming their motivational attitudes” (p. 79); “motivations towards mathematics are developed early, are highly stable over time, and are influenced greatly by teacher actions and attitudes" (p. 80); “providing opportunities for students to develop intrinsic motivation in mathematics is generally superior to providing extrinsic incentives for achievement” (p. 81); and “Last, and most important, achievement motivation in mathematics, though stable, can be affected through careful instructional design.” (p. 82)

Attitude toward Mathematics “Attitude toward mathematics is defined as a general emotional disposition toward the school subject of mathematics” (Haladnya et al., 1983, p. 20). Maple and Stage (as cited in Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi, 1995) found that “attitude toward mathematics significantly influenced choice of mathematics major. “One of the most important reasons for nurturing a positive attitude in mathematics is that it may increase one’s tendency to elect mathematics courses in high school and college and possibly to elect careers in a math related field” (Schiefele &

Causes of Negative 13 Csikszentmihalyi, 1995, p. 177). One of the most important factors in students’ attitude toward mathematics is the teacher and classroom environment. Haladnya et al. (1983) conducted a study designed to examine teacher and learning environment variables that were believed to be the most powerful causal determinants of attitude toward mathematics. Over 2,000 students in grades 4, 7, and 9 participated in the study. The students were given the Inventory of Affective Aspects of Schooling (IAAS) that addressed student motivation, teacher quality, social-psychological class climate, management-organization class climate and attitude toward math. The correlations of each independent variable with attitude and motivation were all significant (p<.05) using a one-tailed test. A path analysis was also conducted to determine causal relationships. The findings suggest that teacher quality (enthusiasm, respect, commitment to help students learn, fairness, praise and reinforcement) seems to be consistently related to attitude toward mathematics. Wilkins & Ma (2003) conducted a study to answer questions about how student attitudes changed from middle school to high school. Data came from Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY), a national study, which tracked over 3,000 seventh-grade students for six years. Information about student affect was collected (via questionnaires) and three measures created: attitude toward mathematics, social importance of mathematics (usefulness of math in daily lives and on the job), and

Causes of Negative 14 nature of mathematics (whether changes in science theory over time cause more good than harm). The findings show that mathematical beliefs and attitudes change gradually. “However, the important trend highlighted in this study is that students in secondary school become increasingly less positive with regard to their attitude toward mathematics and their beliefs in the social importance on mathematics” (Wilkins & Ma, 2003 p. 58). Students’ notions of the nature of science showed little change. In regard to middle school changes, attitude and social importance of mathematics declined at a significantly slower rate (p<.001) for students with positive teacher push and positive peer influence. Parental push was also a significant (p<.05) influence. In high school, positive peer influence (p<.001), positive teacher push (p<.05), and curriculum (students taking higher math) (p<.001) were related to slower rates of decline in attitude and social importance. Wilkins and Ma (2003) make several observations and suggestions such as: “If teachers hold high expectations and present students with challenging mathematics, then students may be more likely to enjoy mathematics and recognize it usefulness” (p. 59) and “teachers’ choice of activities and mathematics problems can have a strong impact on the values that are portrayed in the classroom and on how students view mathematics and its usefulness” (p. 59). Supporting positive peer networks and involving parents in school activities involving mathematics can help slow decline of students’ negative attitude toward mathematics (Wilkins & Ma, 2003).

Causes of Negative 15 Ma & Kishor (1997) conducted a meta-analysis of 113 studies to examine the relationship between attitude toward math and achievement in math. Although the study produced no significant results, there was an indication that junior high may be the most important period for students to understand and shape their attitude as it relates to their achievement in math. Therefore, the junior high years may provide teachers an opportunity to treat negative attitudes toward math and foster high achievement. Summary It is clear from the research reviewed that math anxiety, motivation, and attitude all play important roles in whether or not students will pursue advanced mathematics courses and careers in math related fields. As the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1991) states it has become “socially acceptable to take pride in not being good in mathematics.” Many suggestions have been offered to address the problem, for example: change teaching methods, get students actively involved in learning mathematics, show students the relevance of mathematics in their lives, build relationships with the students, promote a positive affective environment, and create interest in the mathematics field are just a few. In any case, the affective environment can play a large role in reversing the trend of negative attitudes about mathematics, lack of motivation, and the adverse effect of math anxiety on our students.

Causes of Negative 16

Causes of Negative 17 Bibliography Anderson, R. (2007). Being a mathematics learner: Four faces of identity. The Mathematics Educator. 17(1), 7-14.

Cates, G., & Rymer, K. (2003). Examining the relationship between mathematics anxiety and mathematics performance: An instructional hierarchy perspective. Journal of Behavioral Education. 12(1), 23-34.

Davis, D., Maher, C., & Noddings, N. (1990). Constructivist views on the teaching and learning of mathematics. Chapter 12: Suggestions for the improvement of mathematics education. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. Monograph. 4, 187-191.

Haladyna, T., Shaughnessy, J., & Shaughnessy, M. (1983). A causal analysis of attitude towards mathematics. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. 14(1) 19-29.

Ho, H., Senturk, D., Lam, A., Zimmer, J., Hong, S., Okamoto, S., Nakazawa, Y ., Wang, C. (2000). The affective and cognitive dimensions of math anxiety: A cross-national study. Journal for Research in Mathematic Education. 31(3), 362-379.

Causes of Negative 18 Ma, X., & Kishor N. (1997). Assessing the relationship between attitude toward mathematics and achievement in mathematics: A metaJournal for Research in Mathematics Education. 28(1), 26-47 analysis.

Ma, X., (1999). A meta-analysis of the relationship between anxiety toward mathematics and achievement in mathematics. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. 30(5), 520-540.

Meece, J., Wigfield, A., Eccles, J. (1990). Predictors of math anxiety and its influence on young adolescents’ course enrollment intentions and performance in mathematics. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(1), base. 60-70. Retrieved October 17, 2007 from PsycARTICLES data-

Middleton, J., & Spanias, P. (1999). Motivation for achievement in mathematics: Findings, generalizations, and criticisms of the research. for Research in Mathematics Education. 30(1), 56-88 Journal

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Principles and standards for school mathematics. 1991. Retrieved February 20, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://my.nctm.org/standards/previous/ProfStds/NextSteps.htm

Causes of Negative 19 Schiefele, U., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1995). Motivation and ability as factors search in in mathematics experience and achievement. Journal for ReMathematics Education. 26(2), 163-181.

Stipek, D., Salmon, J., Givvin, K., Kazemi, E., Saxe, G., & MacGyvers, V., (1998). The value (and convergence) of practices suggested by mathematics research and promoted by mathematics education reformers. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. 29(4) 465488.

Suinn, R., & Richardson, F., (1972). The mathematics anxiety rating scale: Psychometric data. Journal for Counseling Psychology. 19(6), 551554.

Wigfield, A., Meece, J. (1988). Math anxiety in elementary and secondary school students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 210-216.

Wilkins, J., & Ma X. (2003). Modeling change in students attitude toward and 52beliefs about mathematics. Journal of Educational Research, 97(1), 63. Retrieved October 10, 2007, from PsyncINFO database.

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