IT STARTED WITH a fairly simple problem. The class of elementary education majors were looking at energy and efficiency. This course is specifically designed to help these students get a basic understanding of the nature of science (using the awesome Physics and Everyday Thinking curriculum). Since the goal is to look at science, we don’t have too much math in the course. However, in this case students were trying to find the power needed such that a fluorescent lightbulb would have the same brightness as an incandescent bulb.
In essence, this gives the students a word problem. Some students rise to the challenge, but some students just shut down. I let students work in groups on the problem and then volunteers shared their solution with the class. It was a great activity. Students can see that even if you understand how to solve this problem, it can be very difficult to share that understanding with others. But in the end, I had to make a few statements to the class. This is what I told them.
“I’m just not a math person”
First, this is wrong. You are a math person because you are human. All humans do math. All humans do art and music, and build things and cry, and laugh. It’s what makes us human. Second, you are going to be a teacher. You are going to have an enormous impact on young students. If you even think that you don’t like math, these students will pick up on your dislike and also not like math.