Math Fears: Part 2

Jul 1, 2005

America has a math problem. Too few understand too little about the exact science. In fact, a recent assessment ranks the U.S. 24th out of 29 industrialized countries.

Reasons for poor performance in math range from poor communication about math as a problem-solving tool to a negative portrayal by the media of math as a rigid and difficult subject.

OSU College of Education professor Donna Berlin says the first step to correcting a negative view of mathematics, at least in schools, is already taking place. Berlin says the new approach is to teach children that math can be used in a number of ways to solve the same problem, and that math is neither foreign nor static.

"So, they come up with multiple solutions, and they engage in discourse to validate their answer, to say to another student or peer, 'This is why I think this is the right strategy. This is why I think this is the right answer,'" says Berlin.

As a student begins to explore mathematics Berlin and education professor Arthur White agree that they also need to see mathematics as connected and applicable to everyday life. White says through these connections math becomes more than just a set of rules. Though addition and subtraction can seem abstract by themselves, they become concrete tools when used to balance a checkbook.

For high school students attending the Ross Mathematics Program on the OSU campus, though, this is just the first step into a larger world. At the eight-week-long camp students go beyond the high school classroom and discover a new side to mathematics.

Daniel Shapiro, director of the Ross Program, says the program is designed to show students a deeper side to mathematics. He says the program is working to draw students into mathematics.

"There's lots of people who go through this program, and in the past 45 years have gone on into careers in science and mathematical research. But, some of them decide they really love it and change into math and become mathematicians when they didn't even know that was an interesting subject before they came," he says.

While the Ross Program encourages high school students to learn more about math, Berlin and White think something needs to be done for the general public. They say they would like to see people comfortable with math, and at each person's own level. They feel that a world where math is presented on a more ordinary level would show people that math is something they can use everyday.