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Interest in Subject Top Factor for ‘Math People’

What does it mean to be a math person? According to a new study, it simply means that you take an interest in the subject.

Florida International University Professor Zahra Hazari conducted research with Harvard University’s Philip M. Sadler and Gerhard Sonnert, and Jennifer D. Cribbs from Western Kentucky University, to see what motivates a “math person” to gravitate towards the subject. Funded by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Child Development, the researchers surveyed more than 9,000 college calculus students nationwide, discovering that confidence in ability comes second to recognition and interest. U.S. News recently discussed the research in an article. 

"Much of becoming a math person and pursuing a related STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) career has to do with being recognized and becoming interested – not just being able to do it," said Hazari in the article. "This is important for promoting math education for everyone since it is not just about confidence and performance."

Confidence does play its role, but comes behind the positive reinforcement of recognition and developing a passion for math, and it's a surprise to researchers that they don't always correlate. 

"It is surprising that a student who becomes confident in their math abilities will not necessarily develop a math identity," said Hazari. “I think the story is you have to develop competence. But if you feel like you can do it, that's not enough. You need to become interested in math or recognized for your math ability to continue on."

Hazari highlighted that this is seen in many students. 

"They get A's in all their classes, but they don't see themselves as math people. There are so many women who suffer from this. Recognition is even more important for women. If they feel that they have the abilities, and they're never recognized, then they're even less likely to become math people." said Hazari. 

Hazari offered these tips for guiding math students:

    •    Have your child teach or help a younger sibling or friend with a math problem.
    •    Help your child connect math to something they're interested in (figuring out Lebron James' shooting percentage in the NBA Finals or the proportion of water to Kool-Aid that makes the best Popsicle).
    •    Shower your child with encouragement and public kudos if they solve a challenging math problem.
    •    And don't forget to hold your child to high expectations in math. Believing they can do challenging math is another way of recognizing them.

For the full article, visit here.

Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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Copyright © 2015 Education World

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