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Why does everyone hate math?

Going to school (as I do on a daily basis), you see tons of different people with different interests (as I imagine you would in most situations). So everyday I see my friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and everyone else in my grade, and the vast majority of them just don't like math. I just want to know why. Personally I love math, like all caps LOVE math, but I just can't get why it's just decided that no one is going to like math. Of all of the subjects to hate, why does everyone gravitate towards math? Is it just that it's taught badly (which I could very easily see), does everyone just see it as useless to know that x=2 when 12x+7=31, or is it that you just went with the crowd? But for all you math haters, why? And if you don't hate math like me, what made you go against everyone else?

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    Mar 7 2013: I am like you in that math was always my favorite subject, particularly once it got to proofs. I took a ton of it, majored in it in college, and have taught math a lot.

    There are a few reasons people sometimes lose their taste for it or don't catch "the mathy bug." First, math is often very poorly taught in the lower grades, by teachers who themselves don't like it, don't have a deep understanding of it (like the answers to the "why" questions), and project something of a fear of it onto their students.

    Second, that many math problems have right and wrong answers is a problem for people who feel uncomfortable about making mistakes.

    Third, people differ in how they process math problems in a way that naturally takes different people different amounts of time. Being fast isn't important, but kids often get an early impression that if you are not fast, you are not good at it. So pokey types sometimes get discouraged and focus elsewhere.

    One thing I always found appealing about math is that there is nearly nothing to memorize. It is all about understanding how it all fits coherently. But after a point, people do need to remember their multiplication tables to proceed comfortably. If people do not know them and don't have access to a calculator, they struggle with most math that follows, and it makes the whole thing unpleasant, as those who do know that one thing move forward.

    What I have definitely noticed, though, as I have taught a lot of adults in addition to kids, is that many people who disliked math or found it difficult to learn while at school can find it fun and interesting later, if they see it again with a great teacher who understands the material well and how it connects to things that interest them.
  • Mar 11 2013: Many times people dislike things they do not do well in. The beauty of math can be hindered by the lack of ability to find x, to be able to integrate, to find flux. Thus, the appreciation for it is often unfound unless one enjoys a wonderfully great challenge. If one day, miraculously, an individual gains some mathematical skills that was once not there, perhaps they will no longer "hate" math but find its usefulness.
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    Mar 8 2013: I think Ethan means the intimidating, imaginationless, uninteresting computation exercises in schools that goes by the name of math. A large number of students hate it. But mathematics is more deeply embedded in our lives and thoughts than we might care to admit. Mathematical abilities in humans predate language, according to anthropologists.
    The moment human mind can discern many from one, it becomes mathematically endowed. Sadly, the utility side of mathematics is unjustly hyped and nobody talks about the beauty ( and yes abstract beauty too) of mathematical expressions.
    Numbers are a very small part of modern maths. Setting up a mathematical formalism within the realm of given axioms and using it to describe a real life problem is what it stands for. There are absolutely elegant and ugly ways to do it.
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    Mar 7 2013: It's because the system places the burden of executing the computation and the duty of finding out a result on the student. It will be fun if students can just read a problem, imagine its mathematical equivalent, discover the algorithm and check off. The rest can be taken care of by computers.
    • Mar 7 2013: That would be so awesome!
  • Mar 10 2013: i think it's because it forces someone to think and most people do not like thinking too much and also math needs a very patient person who is able to spend as much time to try solve a math problem
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      Mar 10 2013: Why does math require a certain type of person if it is a universal language?
  • Mar 8 2013: Most people are actively engaged in following the path of least resistance through life, just trying to do the minimum. Math takes a bit if intellectual work to understand. Some of this hatred just might be displaced anger at being forced to do something besides memorize for academic success.

    If you accomplish this work, you are often rewarded by many things, including the beauty of an exact answer or a better understanding of the bounds of a problem when no answer can be found. Understanding math techniques also provides you with many tools to solve your own problems. Mastery of these techniques can make you competitive in many fields. For most, math is a means to an end in one of these pursuits. For some,the desire to be the best an anything, or everything in some instances, is facilitated by the strength of mathematical arguments. Although a bit tragic, for some, just being socially accepted as a math nerd is a desirable outcome. Math a communication language also transcends cultural, political, and economic boundaries. Similarly, mastery of it has a sort of universal respect.

    So what you see in school as hatred, might just be a convenient response to the willingness to do the work required for understanding. For some, the work required is greater than for others. Acceptance of this fact is more difficult than hatred. People on the easy path of developing a hatred for math are doomed to have the lack of effort haunt them their entire lives. A more unfortunate situation is the plight of those who have the willingness to do the work and the aptitude to learn it quickly, yet are prevented from exploiting their talent by economic, political, cultural, or other extenuating circumstances.

    Use your opportunity and your passion to THOROUGHLY understand the concepts and applications you are taught in math classes while in school. Perhaps in doing so, you will discover a way to increase worldwide appeal to the subject.
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    Mar 8 2013: MATH is the language of the universe. The first thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a math teacher. Patterns are math. Music is math. Dance is math. I'm stretching the confines of the classroom here, but all things in nature are based off of mathematical principles. It could just be the way that math is taught.

    I didn't always like math though. As in, there were points in high school when I didn't really care. And I can't just blame that on "bad teaching". But as I've gotten older, the more I've come to value the math I do remember and the connections I do make using numbers and patterns.

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      Mar 8 2013: Greg,
      I think you hit the nail on the head. Math is a language. Its a set of symbols and concepts that relate and work together. Why everyone hate's math is probably because the language is not spoken from birth and its rarely spoken in a dialect that people can understand. For most people, it would be like trying to learn Japanese; reading it as a native English speaker, and having the instructor pronouncing with a Russian accent.
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        Mar 8 2013: Steven Pinker makes a similar argument- that we are not particiularly wired for it beyond basic counting. But that only means there can be challenges in learning it rather than that one wouldn't enjoy it.

        While people may vary in taste for challenge, it may be more likely that those who shirink back from it are uncomfortable with making mistakes along the way.
  • Mar 8 2013: It's interesting to see how these comments have turned out. I think it's odd that there has emerged this idea that math is this beauteous abstract art and should be taught as such (which I completely agree with), but on the other hand there is this other idea that math is this great tool that is used absolutely everywhere, and that it is taught in a way that doesn't relate it enough to life as it should be (this I also agree with). But the thing I find most interesting is that they're both used arguing for the same thing: math is good, but taught badly. Personally I think that both of the ideas are terrible alone, and should both be implemented. It should definitely be pointed out (more like screamed in their faces) that math is this incredibly useful tool that can be used in literally any situation, and taught in a way that reinforces this. But I see no reason to not teach kids the wondrous beauty of the art of mathematics; just not everyone. I think that math as a core required class should be how it's useful in the real world, but aside from that why not throw math in as a non-required class too, where the art of math is taught.

    I'm astounded at the thoughtfulness of the answers I'm getting, and I'm surprised at the direction the conversation has gone. I hope this continues, it'll give me something to think about.
    Man TED is just amazing.
  • Mar 7 2013: Yup! The way it is taught can make a lot of difference. Had a few teachers that did not teach it very well, but found another student, in a different class, that got it right in my head. I am not a math whiz (higher maths) but do enjoy it.
  • Mar 7 2013: When I was a student I enjoyed doing math.I liked to get together with classmates discussing math's questions.I liked to keep thinking a math question then suddenly got the way to understand and solve it.It sounded like some mysterious searching process which obsessed me a lot.O
    Of course,teachers' encourage was very important for me to like math more.
    But I had been confused a long time because I really didn't understand what math's value in our lives?
    But now I feel I benefit a lot from hard study in math:because I eventually can understand math is another language to descripe the world simpler,clearer than the language we speak.And math helps us everywhere.
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    Gail .

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    Mar 8 2013: I was in my 30s before I heard that math is a language. I was also in my 30s before I discovered that algebra can be played like a puzzle or crossword - something to do just for fun. I was in my 40s when I discovered that math can introduce me to new ideas and that it can bridge two or more fields of study and can tell me more about the world that I live in.

    When I was in 3rd grade, being introduced to the multiplication tables, I was told that when I was grown up and married, and had a house of my own, I might want to replace my carpeting or lynoleum in my house and I would need to know that (in 20-30 years). When I learned how to multiply fractions, it was so that when I was an adult with children of my own, I would know how to cook better. When I learned about computing the area of a circle, that I would never need to know that unless I became a scientist or mathematician (at which point I was amazed that math was actually a career choice). When I learned about computing the volume of a cylinder, I was told that I would only need to know that if I were a man who was a farmer and had to know how big a silo needed to be.

    Of course, I grew up at a time when women were excluded from most career paths. If we wanted to be a professional, we could be a nurse or a teacher (neither of which appealed to me), and all the fun jobs (in my estimation) were reserved for men only. As my teachers knew that I was a female, and that math would be lost on me, the bottom line given for learning it was so that I could graduate from high school - which my parents expected of me.

    I never saw my parents using math to solve problems (though I didn't know that they did mental math often). It was consistently reinforced that math was a waste of my time, but I had to learn it anyhow. In that way, it was nothing more than a form of abuse. If I didn't do it, I was punished. Doing it was punishment.

    Today, I love math and wish I could find a way to fill in the missing pieces
    • W T

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      Mar 8 2013: Hi TED Lover......your relationship with Math sounds like mine.

      I now love Math.....but it wasn't like that before......I had to really struggle to get a passing grade. When in school, I thought Math concepts were beyond my understanding.

      I have found that viewing Kahn academy videos are great for me. Have you visited the site?

      I started to love Math when I started college. I undertook the task of staying one lesson ahead of my professor. I would study really hard prior to going to class. That was all that it took to love numbers and the concept of applying them. Ever since then I have had a different relationship with Math.
      I especially love word problems that are multi-step and need algebraic solutions.

      I had a conversation about Math with Fritzie on another topic and what I mentioned there to him kind of related to this topic.

      It seems that alot of kids hate Math because when they are asked to apply it..."Word Problems"....they just don't know where to start solving the problem. There is a lack of general "comprehension" of what they are being asked to do. This goes directly to the teacher's lack of teaching......and of course, the child could have comprehension issues related to "reading".

      I have to agree with alot of what has been stated on here already. That is, teachers could do more to help kids enjoy doing Math. There are so many tools out there to make Math enjoyable and fun.

      Thankfully now students have the internet to enrich their classroom learning, I think that in itself will create a huge paradigm shift as far as the attitude towards Math is concerned. Don't you think so?
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    Mar 8 2013: Ethan, Once you realize that pie are round and cornbread are square it all becomes clear.

    Ethan has it occured to you that math teachers are people who always got it ... the light switch came on early and the language became clear. At our high school we had a math teacher with a masters and he could do it all .... except communicate to those who "did not get it". He had two groups "in" and "out" He pressed on with those who got it and the rest failed.

    Probally more than any other subject math and science are the two major "hates". Science has taught us that if you are good at one you will struggle with the other ... a general statement but somewhat supported.

    So to address your question. In elementary school we are "beat up" with math .. a good part of the day is dedicated to it and it is the major homework load. It is never made fun ... you are kept in at recess ... and are singled out as a under achiever ... and even the best of teachers isolate the slow learner for additional help and "special" attention. This, IMO, is the start of the mental blocks that occur in math. Elementary school students that fall behind in math ... exactly when do they get the opportunity to build that base ... never in Jr High or High School. The treachers do not have the time for one on one and as I said many do not have the communication skills to impart the math knowledge.

    I am a firm believer that the best teachers should be at the elementary level. Give the student the tools to make it all easier and more productive later. Sports, education, interaction, character, work habits, etc .. are all elementray and home enforced traits that will help us through the rest of our lives.

    I wish you well. Bob.
  • Mar 7 2013: Math is actually fun and really hone intellectual. If you try to love math, you would like to sit on the edge of niagara falls. Beautiful, refreshing and gives you inspiration and a lot of brilliant ideas. If you need inspiration, please can visit here :
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    Mar 7 2013: Because we are all pattern seekers and numbers are boring
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      Mar 7 2013: so it is kinda lucky that math is not about numbers
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        Mar 7 2013: Wait when did that happen?
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        Mar 7 2013: Sorry I need more understanding, so your saying math is about geometry and then geometry is about numbers
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      Mar 7 2013: math is about everything that has a logical structure. numbers, shapes, lines, sets, games, functions, transformations, routes. i wonder what do you mean by "geometry is about numbers". in my geometry class back then, we had no numbers. we had angles, straight lines, intersections, circles and such stuff.
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        Josh S

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        Mar 7 2013: Geometry is a small part of math. and you do use numbers in geometry, for angles, for distances, for slopes. If you didnt use numbers in geometry, i invite you to take another course in it because its changed and we use numbers now!
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          Mar 7 2013: and functions another. and group theory is yet another. and sets too. i can use numbers do describe angles, but if i hate numbers, why would i? you can make a career in math never ever calculating a single thing.
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          Mar 7 2013: Can you make an career were you don't "calculate"....thought alone is calculation
  • Mar 7 2013: Most math teachers should be put against a wall and shot. I have wanted to say that since Grade 10 and it felt great.
    Math is taught badly at all levels (including first year university) with no connection to the real world attempted usually.
    Math as an abstract language is best left to those few who see math this way and for the later grades. For the majority of us, math should be seen as a tool for breaking down problems and searching for answers.
    Sir Kenneth Robinson summed it up succinctly when he said that the final target of learning math should not be calculus, it should be statistics.
    • Mar 7 2013: I agree that math should be taught in a way that demonstrates it as a great tool for solving science problems (or any other problem really). I disagree where you say that the pure abstract math should be left out of most people's curriculum. I believe that math should be taught in a more abstract sense. Math shouldn't just be considered a tool, it's also an art. Student's, I think, should be taught to see math just the way they see band class or art class. It's not that math should just be taught as a tool, or just taught as a way of thinking, I think it should be taught as both, but just not in the same class.
      • Mar 8 2013: Ah but it is not.
        In band, it is important for the student to start playing music early. Not just to study chords, key signatures, obtuse italian phrases and scales. As well as exercises, there are studies, chorals, arranged pieces for different sized groups, etc. And good music as well. Nobody likes variations on the Carnival of Venice.
        Art as well is not just the study of color, painting techniques, brush strokes and perspective. People study form and composition by doing.
        But in math, for some reason, we have a reluctance to see math in the real world and sequester it in an ivory tower. It is the language of the universe and can be used to describe everything that I can think of. But not everyone is capable of such lofty heights.
        And rather have everyone try and most fail, I would suggest that setting a goal of having everyone understand how everyday processes can be better understood using math would be the foundation that is required in a democratic society.
        I use that last term because I believe that a democratic society requires an informed population who can read a budget, understand a mortgage and realize when someone is using statistics to get their own way.

        I, personally, spent more time attempting to learn the proof to the chain rule (calculus) than I care to recall. And I didn't spend near enough time on geometry or statistics (until I had to go and learn them on my own)
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    Mar 7 2013: i would suggest a missing link between math and reality. if we give real hard problems to people, and then explain how math solves that problem, suddenly they start to like it.

    sadly, most "math people" don't like that approach, and they want to treat math as abstract as possible. they just like the internal structure of mathematical constructs. but this is not the way to reach the average pedestrian.

    i think wolfram explained it quite well, i'm just repeating stuff here. give people tools to understand and model the flow of water or air through a complex set of walls and obstacles. give them tools to solve equation systems. and teach them how to describe real problems using equation systems. i don't care about the equation systems. i don't care about their classification. i want to solve and understand real world problems.
    • Mar 7 2013: I like both approaches. I think that your idea would be really cool, and that it would be a great substitute to the current math program, but personally (being one of those "math people") I don't think that's enough. I think that math should be also taught in it's pure and abstract way, but only in an elective type class. I think that if you get students to recognize that math is both an art and a tool, more people would like math (maybe even enough to keep a math elective running).
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        Mar 7 2013: i would claim that abstract thinking to common thinking is like opera to pop music. not for everyone. special classes, sure. category theory in highschoolers' face! (if they so desire)
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    Mar 7 2013: Because all of us just don't need maths on our daily basis but it's force to us to learn!

    How many people do you know that use integral in their lives? but it's force to us to learn and study!

    Math is form some, not all! just like every other subject ! it is forcing that create HATE not math itself
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      Mar 7 2013: Really? 'All' is a set. 'How many' needs a number. 'Some' is a sub set. We just cannot live without math, we simply don't appreciate it.
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    Mar 7 2013: "When they struggle, they begin to dread math, and eventually we lose thousands of students who could be the scientists and engineers of tomorrow. If we held back and took more time to ground them in the basics, we could turn them on to math."

    As good as this article is at answering the question here, what is most telling is the comments section of this article.
    My speculation is the kids are not getting a strong enough foundation in the early grades to advance into higher levels of problem solving. This seems to be Dan Meyer's point, textbooks teach the wrong lessons. Meyer is providing this message to math teachers. Should they know this?
    One solution to this is an innovative teaching method called "flipped classroom." Children watch the video of the lesson at home and come to class to do the "homework." The teachers role changes to one to a partner, mentor, and facilitator, and this also allows for peer-to-peer learning. Also see Mathtrain, another innovation in math learning, where the students are the teacher.
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      Mar 7 2013: Another very widely used math pedagogy that goes beyond either the lecture at school or lecture at home versions is constructivist, or inquiry-driven, pedagogy. These are problem-centered curricula in which kids never just listen to a top down presentation of "here is how you do it, now do fifty more of these."

      Rather the classtime involves students tacking problems together, where those problems use math in an authentic context and the teacher moves around facilitating student investigations and bringing out interesting discoveries to the class, via the students, in the closing plenary. The problems are carefully sequenced so as to move through fundamental concepts and connect and review them.

      This is a very common math pedagogy now in the United States and what teachers are commonly trained to do in their credential programs..
  • Mar 7 2013: If you get the time, learn about Myers-Biggs personality tests. Keirsey's books are some of the best. Few teachers are Promethians and Virtually none are Dionysians. So this gets rid of most of the Quants and almost all of the performing artists. MIT is almost excluded and Julliard is excluded. Most of the students aren't interested in math in high school, and many are not in college. My gosh Ethan you are a bright young man and you might even be an INTJ or INTP nickname for these are scientist or engineer. The current POTUS is I believe an ENTJ and I'm sure can do math - Oh the nickname for that is field marshall, and he's the guy who was
    POTUS when they got bin Loden.
  • Mar 7 2013: I Think it more interesting when I must calculate money in economic major....
    math is so unreal subject for my brain

    maybe know u love calculus, but when u study about integral and make confuse...
    what is sin, cos and Tgn... huff
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      Mar 7 2013: Are you asking what those are? If you start with an angle and draw yourself a right triangle including that angle, the sine is the length of the side opposite the angle divided by the side (called the hypotenuse) opposite the 90' angle. The cosine is the third side of the triangle divided by the hypotenuse. The tangent is the sine divided by the cosine. These are just definitions.

      These have important applications in situations in which you need to know lengths in situations you can describe with triangles.

      The integral is entirely different, being a measure not of length but of area. The Integral is the area under a curve. It can also be used to find volumes
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    Mar 7 2013: Sorry for the typos below. I have tried three or four times to correct them, but the interface is not responding to let me do that.