I hate math

“I hate math.”  Those words, or some variant are all too common, especially in high school. Innumerable articles have been written on the subject since the initial move to, “new math,” in the 1960’s, but very little has changed. In some of the more entertaining studies, students at different grade levels were asked to compare doing a math problem to something they presumably would like even less.  In fact, if you want to have a little fun and get a measure of your class, why not ask them to take the following quiz:

Answer the following with either T for True or F for False by replacing the blank in the following sentence with one of the options below:

I would rather _________  than do a math problem
  1. ______  Eat broccoli
  2. ______  Clean the bathroom
  3. ______  Write an essay
  4. ______  Give a speech
  5. ______  Skip a meal
  6. ______  Do 50 pushups
  7. ______  Dump ice on my head
  8. ______  Not use my phone for a week
  9. ______  Walk barefoot all day
  10. ______  Listen to a 2 hour history lecture


Teaching math in the average classroom is largely a procedural activity, in fact, much of STEM learning is often boiled down to following procedures and repeating them in varying degrees of difficulty.  The faster you are able to identify or complete the problem, the higher your grade.  The challenge to this approach is that the material is too often separated from the purpose and meaning of the procedure.  It leaves students asking that diabolical question, “when will I ever use this…” and teachers having little to no way of answering with any specificity.

Whether effective or not, this approach results in a punitive learning environment.  In recent student focus groups we asked about testing and to no surprise found that what students really don’t like about STEM courses are the exams.  When comparing traditional exams versus project-based examination, the choice on the student’s end was overwhelmingly in favor of projects.  Ultimately they viewed traditional tests in math and science only as opportunities to fail, or at best to reveal what they still didn’t know.

A New York Times article describes this as the “I, We, You” process, where the instructor walks through a procedure, walks the class through a procedure and then demands the individual to perform the procedure in a narrowing of the responsibility funnel.  Inherently, however, this process taps short term memory and inhibits retention.

So what can you do to turn the tide and get math haters to be at least unintimidated?  Here’s some suggestions from our experience and research: 

  1. Flip the classroom:  present problems first to the individual, who then shares in peer group, that presents not only its result, but learning experience to the class. (aka Magdalene Lampert)
  2. Break the classroom up: Just because your math problems should line up doesn’t mean your classroom desks should.  A lot of positive learning outcomes have sprouted from rearranging and shaping the classroom environment.
  3. Use a new script:  Take a good honest look at how you are teaching and try out a new model … but when you do, don’t just fit that model into what makes you comfortable.
  4. Use observation to shake things up:  We all hate to get feedback, but sometimes it’s the best thing for us to do.  Bring a non-STEM colleague into the room and get their feedback on how your classroom is run and the body language and engagement of the students
  5. Partner across the hallway:  While you have that non-STEM colleague in the room, why not partner on a multi-class or cross-class project that incorporates something from Sports, technology, entertainment or music …. wait that spells STEM….
  6. Bring back show and tell:  You’ll have to know your craft to do this successfully, or plan out a week in advance, but encouraging students to bring real world things they love into the classroom to uncover the STEM inside is a method worth pursuing … and likely something simple enough that you can incorporate it for any procedure or review you are working on.


While computers are increasingly doing our math for us, having a fundamental grasp of math is more and more critical for getting a good job and establishing a rewarding career.  It is also, the one universal and global language.  So much so that our efforts to communicate with potential new forms of life are all derived via … math 

If you’re interested in learning more about STEM Jobs be sure to sign up for our Teacher’s Guide to STEM.  And by the way, thank you for your service to our communities and for empowering the STEM generation!