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Dislike of Math




Why do students and adults alike seem to dislike mathematics?

Some will roll their eyes or let out a sigh. They give many reasons,

such as “It's too hard,” “I'm not good at math,” or “why do I even need

math?” Where does this attitude come from? The National Council of

Teachers of Mathematics (1991) made this statement: “One of the

curious aspects of our society is that it is socially acceptable to take

pride in not being good in mathematics.” Is it something that can be

changed? First we need to know why.

This study will explore the reasons why students dislike

mathematics. There are many possible reasons for these attitudes.

There have been several studies on math anxiety (Ho, H., Senturk, D.,

Lam, A., Zimmer, J., Hong, S., Okamoto, S., Nakazawa, Y., Wang, C.,

2000; Ma 1999; Cates & Rymer, 2003) that have attempted to describe

the effect math anxiety has on math achievement. It may have

something to do with the classroom experience (Schefele &

Csikszentmihalyi, 1995). Some students may believe erroneously that

they are not “math people” (Anderson, 2007). Maybe the student fell

behind and was unable to catch up because of the sequential nature of

mathematics. It’s also possible that has to do with the difficulty of a

particular grade level (Cates & Rymer, 2003). Maybe the students don’t
Dislike of Math

understand why they will need mathematics and don’t see the real

world connections. This study will focus why some students have such

a negative attitude about mathematics.

Problem of the Study

Having a negative attitude toward mathematics may be related to

achievement of math students. If students don't like math, they may

be able to struggle through the classes and make good grades, but the

long-term effect will probably be that they will not pursue the subject

any more than they have to. They will certainly not pursue a career in

a math related field. If the reasons for this dislike can be determined,

then teachers can take steps to change the student’s attitude.

Purpose of the Study

This study will seek to determine what student attitudes are

about mathematics and in particular, if they dislike math, what are the


Significance of the Study

Educators and government officials have been seeking to find ways

to increase student achievement in mathematics and science. With

many students having a dislike of mathematics, it will be difficult to

have meaningful change in achievement. If a particular reason can be

found for this dislike, then it may be possible to intervene in a timely


Definition of Terminology

Dislike of Math

Dislike of math in this study is defined as a negative attitude

toward math causing a desire to avoid mathematics classes.


The survey used for this study was created by the researcher, and

was not validated. The students will take the survey during their math

class and may feel some pressure to respond positively. This may be

from their parents, the teacher or from their peers. Since the sample is

eighth grade students their maturity level may prevent them from

taking the survey seriously, or they may find it boring. In an attempt to

minimize this, the researcher will be present and administer the survey

and attempt to explain its importance and emphasize its



This study consists of five chapters. Chapter I introduces the study

and defines the problem to be investigated. It also includes the

purpose, significance, limitations, and defines terms used in the study.

Chapter II will review related research. Chapter III describes the

methodology and procedures, which includes the population, sample,

data collection instruments, procedures, and research questions and

related hypothesis. Chapter IV will analyze and discuss the data

collected and chapter V will summarize the findings and give any

conclusions, recommendations, or implications of the study.

Dislike of Math




“I’m not good at math”, “I hate math” or “math is too hard” are

common phrases heard by teachers and parents. “One of the curious

aspects of our society is that it is socially acceptable to take pride in

not being good in mathematics” (National Council of Teachers of

Mathematics [NCTM], 1991, ¶16). Where do these attitudes and beliefs

come from? Can they be changed? Through reviewing literature, three

main ideas surfaced as possible reasons students dislike math: math

anxiety, lack of motivation in mathematics, and a negative attitude

toward mathematics.

Math Anxiety

Math anxiety is a condition in which students experience negative

reactions to mathematical concepts and evaluation methods (Cates &

Rhymer, 2003). Math anxiety can lead to several consequences. For

example, Suinn and Richardson (1972) found that mathematics anxiety

may prevent students from pursuing higher-level math courses and

HO, Senturk, Lam, Zimmer, Hong, Okamoto, Chui, Nakazawa, & Wang

(2000) stated, “math anxiety has been found to have a negative

relationship with mathematics performance and achievement” (p.362).

Dislike of Math

Anxious individuals may avoid mathematics classes, may be more

likely to have negative attitudes toward mathematic related activities,

or if they become elementary teachers, may not spend as much time

teaching mathematics as their less anxious colleagues (Ho et al.,

2000). Several studies have proposed that math anxiety has two

dimensions: affective (nervousness, tension, dread, fear) and cognitive

(worry) (Meece, Wigfield, & Eccles, 1990; Wigfield & Meece, 1988; Ho

et al., 2000).

Ho et al. conducted a study across three nations consisting of

671 sixth grade students from China (211, 92 girls and 119 boys),

Taiwan (214, 106 girls and 108 boys), and the United States (246, 111

girls and 135 boys). The focus in this study was to address the

differential predictions of the affective and cognitive factors of math

anxiety for mathematics achievement. For the anxiety measure the

MAQ (Math Anxiety Questionnaire) was used. It contained 11 items

using a Likert scale and contained items in the cognitive and affective

dimensions. For the math achievement dimension, two similar tests

were given 4 to 6 weeks apart with reliability coefficient of .82. One

third of the items were from textbooks, one-third from another cross-

national study, and the other third developed by the researchers. The

relationship between the affective math anxiety factor and

achievement showed a strong negative effect (p<.05). Cognitive

anxiety was inconsistent across the samples. China and U.S. samples

Dislike of Math

were not significant, whereas, Taiwan had significant and positive

effects (p<.05) from cognitive anxiety. Analysis of the gender

interaction showed only Taiwan had significant effect with girls having

higher affective anxiety (p<.05). Taiwanese and U.S. girls had higher

cognitive anxiety (p<.05) than Taiwanese and U.S. boys. Gender

differences in China were not significant. In mathematics achievement

only the main effect for nation was significant (p<.05). Gender and

interaction of gender by nation were not significant. The results

suggest that the affective factors of math anxiety are consistently

related to mathematics achievement, while the cognitive factors yield

inconsistent results. Ho et al. (2000) conclusion is that the affective

dimension of math anxiety correlates more strongly with negative

performance than does the cognitive dimension.

Meece, Wigfield, & Eccles (1990) conducted a 2-year long

longitudinal study that focuses on the influence of math anxiety on

students' course enrollment plans and performance in math. The study

had two goals; to identify important predictors of math anxiety and

assess the predictive influence math anxiety has on enrollment plans.

The sample included 250 students in 7th through 9th grade at

predominantly white middle-class suburban communities. The 7th and

8th grade students were enrolled in classes of approximately equal

difficulty. Ninth grade students were enrolled in regular algebra or

advanced algebra. Seven students were enrolled in a slow-paced

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algebra class. Questionnaires were administered in the spring of year

one and two. The Student Attitude Survey (SAQ) was used which

contains items to assess students expectancies for success, perceived

values, perceived ability, perceived effort, perceived task difficulty in

both math and English, and several other items. Most items were

assessed using two or more 7 point Likert scale items. Predictor

variables were divided into three factors. The perceived math ability

measure consists of three items tapping students' sense of their math

ability and how well they were doing in math. The expectancies

measure consists of two items asking students how well they expected

to do in their current math class. The importance measure consists of

items asking students to rate how important it is for them to do well at

math and to get good grades. The SAQ also includes an item asking

students to indicate whether they would take more math classes in the

future if they were not required. A measure of math anxiety was

included in the second year of the study. It contained 11 items to

assess cognitive (concern about doing well in math) and negative

affective dimensions of math anxiety. Math achievement information

was collected on each student for both years from school records. The

final grade for each year was used. The study suggests those students'

current performance expectancies in mathematics (highly significant at

p<.01) and to a lesser extent perceived importance of mathematics

have the strongest direct effect on their anxiety and are stronger

Dislike of Math

predictors of performance and course enrollment than math anxiety.

Their findings also support the idea that it is the students’

interpretations of their achievement outcomes and not the outcomes

themselves that have the strongest effects on students' affective

reactions to achievement.

Other studies have focused on the effect anxiety has on

achievement. In one such study, Ma (1999) conducted a meta-analysis

consisting of 26 individual studies that investigated the relationship

between math anxiety and achievement in math. The population

correlation for the relationship between math anxiety and math

achievement between the studies was significant (p<.01). The U3

statistic corresponding to the population correlation is .71. This

indicates that “the measures (or treatments) that resulted in

movement of a typical student in the group of high anxiety into the

group of low anxiety would be associated with improvement of the

typical students level of achievement from the 50th percentile to the

71st percentile” (Ma, 1999, p. 528). This study suggests that there is a

significant relationship between anxiety and achievement. It also

quantified the potential improvement when anxiety is reduced. Most

studies have emphasized addressing affective factors, but the

significance of the relationship indicates the value of addressing

cognitive based treatments such as skill development (Ma, 1999).

Cates & Rymer (2003) conducted a study that builds on MA’s

Dislike of Math

(1999) meta-analysis study, by connecting it to the learning hierarchy.

The learning hierarchy suggests that there are four stages of learning:

acquisition, fluency, generalization, and adaptation. Their purpose was

to investigate the extent to which level of math anxiety may be related

to a more advanced stage of the learning Hierarchy than to the initial

acquisition stage by assessing fluency as opposed to overall accuracy.

The study involved fifty-two college students taking an introductory

psychology. They were given the FSMAS (a mathematics anxiety test)

and divided into a low anxiety group and a high anxiety group. These

groups were then given a timed math probe with multiple operations

including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and linear

equations. The results showed a significant difference (p<.05) on

fluency between high and low anxiety groups. “Students with lower

anxiety completed more digits correct per minute an all probes. There

was no significant difference in error rates between high and low

anxiety groups. Both groups were equally accurate on basic

mathematics operations” (Cates & Rymer, 2003, p 30). These results

suggest that fluency in math may be more related to math anxiety

than overall performance. In other words, math anxiety may increase

with problem complexity. One implication is that as students progress

through high school and classes become more complex their anxiety

level will increase.


Dislike of Math

Motivation can be divided into two categories: extrinsic and

intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is desire to obtain rewards for academic

tasks, such as grades, or avoid punishments. "Academic intrinsic

motivation is the drive or desire of the student to engage in learning

‘for its own sake’” (Middleton & Spanias, 1999, p. 66).

Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi (1995) conducted a study to

answer questions related to motivation. First, is quality of experience

when doing mathematics more dependent on ability or motivational

characteristics? Second, are subject-matter-specific measures of

motivation more predictive of quality of experience and achievement

than general measures of motivation? Third, do motivational

characteristics and quality of experience when doing mathematics

predict achievement in mathematics independently of ability? The

study included 108 freshman and sophomores from two suburban high

schools. From the 108 students, teachers nominated students they

thought were talented in one or more subject matters. Students were

given a questionnaire to gauge interest in mathematics and

achievement motivation. Ability was measured by scores on the PSAT

(Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test). Quality of experience was

measured using the Experience Sampling Method (ESM). This method

provides the subject a pager and throughout the day whenever the

subject is signaled they fill out the questionnaire. Semester grades

were used as an indicator of mathematics achievement. Students who

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were talented in mathematics had significantly higher (p<.001) values

for mathematic ability, better grades for the first four years, and a

higher course level than those talented in other subjects. The results

clearly indicate that interest was the strongest predictor of quality of

experience in the mathematics class (Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi,

1995). Specifically, interest showed significant relations to potency

(p<.01), intrinsic motivation (p<.05), self-esteem (p<.01), and

perception of skill (p<.001). “Surprisingly, level of mathematic ability

was not related to experience at all” (Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi,

1995, p. 173). This study suggests that teachers should create more

interest in order to improve motivation. Wiess (cited in Schiefele &

Csikszentmihalyi, 1995), for example, found that teachers tend to

emphasize learning facts and principles and to develop a systematic

approach to problem solving. Their methods were lecture, discussion,

and seatwork. These approaches however, may not create much

interest in mathematics.

Anderson (2007) conducted a qualitative study to address “the

notion of identity, drawn from the social theories of learning as a way

to view students as they develop as mathematics learners” (p. 7). The

students in this study were participants in a larger study of students’

enrollment in advanced mathematics classes. Fourteen students were

selected from one high school for semi-structured interviews. Two

groups were formed: students enrolled in Precalculus or Calculus and

Dislike of Math

students not taking a mathematics course that year. All of the students

had taken the two required and any elective high school mathematics

in the same high school. “One teacher taught most of these courses.

When interviewed, this teacher indicated the ‘traditional’ nature of the

curriculum and pedagogy: ‘We’ve always stayed pretty traditional… We

haven’t really changed it to the really ‘out there’ hands-on type of

programs.’” (Anderson, 2007, p. 7-8) Anderson (2007) describes the

four faces of mathematics identity (how we define ourselves and how

others define us as mathematics learners) as engagement (direct

experiences in the classroom), imagination (envisioning how activities

fit into the big picture), alignment (how the curriculum fits with future

plans), and nature (abilities we’re born with). From the interviews, the

social learning theory, and previous studies conclusions are drawn

about how the four faces impact a students’ mathematic identity.

“Some students may not identify themselves as being a ‘math person’.

Students may mistakenly believe that they are unable to learn

mathematics or they weren’t born with the genetics needed to be good

at math, but scientific evidence does not support these ideas”

(Anderson, 2007, p. 8).

While all four faces contribute to the formation of students’

identities as mathematics learners, the nature face provides the

most unsound and unfounded explanations for students’

participation in the mathematics community. To allow for the

Dislike of Math

development of all students to identify as mathematics learners,

students and teachers must discount the nature face and build

on the other three faces of identity (Anderson, 2007, p. 11).

“Mathematical tasks that engage students in doing mathematics,

making meaning of mathematics, and generating their own solutions

to complex mathematical problems can be beneficial in engaging

students and supporting their identity as mathematics learners” (NCTM

as cited in Anderson, 2007, p.12). Anderson (2007) suggests that to

increase interest, instruction should involve more active and student-

centered activities. “Teachers can reinforce the idea that mathematics

is an interesting subject, used in other disciplines, and is an admission

ticket for colleges and careers. Teachers could have working

professionals to visit the classes and share how they use mathematics

in their profession” (Anderson, 2007 p. 12).

Stipek, Salmon, Givvin, & Kazemi (1998) ask the question: What

are the associations between teaching practices, student motivation

and mathematics learning? In their study, twenty-four 4th through 6th

grade teachers were selected from schools in a large urban ethnically

diverse area. Three groups were formed. Two groups had expressed a

commitment to implementing reforms and agreed to teach using a

reform-oriented unit on fractions. One of those groups was given

training on implementing reforms. The third group taught using

standard methods and textbooks and expressed no interest in reforms.

Dislike of Math

Six hundred ninety four (694) students of diverse ethnic backgrounds

participated. Each teacher was videotaped for at least two periods and

evaluated for teaching practices and a questionnaire was given asking

teachers about their assessment practices. Students completed a

questionnaire twice: once before the intervention and once after the

unit on fractions related to motivational dimensions. Students were

also evaluated from the videotapes of the classroom. Students were

assessed on fractions from routine to conceptually challenging. Tests

were given at the beginning of the year and after the fractions unit.

The effects on student motivation based on teacher practices were

significant between help seeking (p<.001) and enjoyment (p<.05) with

the positive affective practices of the teacher. The effects were also

significant for positive emotions (p<.05), enjoyment (p<.05) and

learning conceptual items (p<.05) with the learning orientation

practices of the teacher. The learning orientation of the teacher refers

to the teacher giving timely and substantive feedback and focuses on

improvement and mastery over grades. The study suggests that the

affective climate is a strong predictor of students’ motivation and

fosters mastery orientation in students.

“Students’ feeling of relatedness to their teachers was strong

predictors of their cognitive, behavioral, and emotional engagement in

classroom activities” (Stipek et al., 1998, p. 483). Davis, Maher, and

Noddings (1990) gave this example:

Dislike of Math

Jaime Escalante, the real-life hero of the film Stand and Deliver,

insists that he must teach his students for three years if they are

to succeed in AP calculus. He conscientiously builds relations of

care and trust with each student. He shows steady concern for

the integral development of his students – how they are doing in

English, how their home lives are going, what jobs and sports

they participate in. This attitude and effort that accompanies it

are part of teaching mathematics. As we build such relations, our

students learn to trust us. When the work is not as exciting as

we’d like it to be or when they have low moments (as we all do),

students will often persist in mathematical endeavors for their

teacher. “Okay, if you say so. I’ll do it - just for you” (p. 191).

Middleton & Spanias (1999) conducted a review of literature to

“describe theoretical orientations guiding research in mathematics

motivation and to discuss findings in terms of how they facilitate or

inhibit achievement" (Middleton & Spanias, 1999, p. 65). The

conclusions are as follows: “students' perception of success in

mathematics are highly influential in forming their motivational

attitudes” (Middleton & Spanias, 1999, p. 79); “motivations towards

mathematics are developed early, are highly stable over time, and are

influenced greatly by teacher actions and attitudes" (Middleton &

Spanias, 1999, p. 80); “providing opportunities for students to develop

intrinsic motivation in mathematics is generally superior to providing

Dislike of Math

extrinsic incentives for achievement” (Middleton & Spanias, 1999, p.

81); and “Last, and most important, achievement motivation in

mathematics, though stable, can be affected through careful

instructional design” (Middleton & Spanias, 1999, p. 82).


“Attitude toward mathematics is defined as a general emotional

disposition toward the school subject of mathematics” (Haladnya et al.,

1983, p. 20). Maple and Stage (as cited in Schiefele &

Csikszentmihalyi, 1995) found that “attitude toward mathematics

significantly influenced choice of mathematics major” (p. 177). “One of

the most important reasons for nurturing a positive attitude in

mathematics is that it may increase one’s tendency to elect

mathematics courses in high school and college and possibly to elect

careers in a math related field” (Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi, 1995, p.

177). One important factor in students’ attitude toward mathematics is

the teacher and classroom environment.

Haladnya et al. (1983) conducted a study designed to examine

teacher and learning environment variables that were believed to be

the most powerful causal determinants of attitude toward

mathematics. Over 2,000 students in grades 4, 7, and 9 participated in

the study. The students were given the Inventory of Affective Aspects

of Schooling (IAAS) that addressed student motivation, teacher quality,

social-psychological class climate, management-organization class

Dislike of Math

climate and attitude toward math. The correlations of each

independent variable with attitude and motivation were all significant

(p<.05) using a one-tailed test. A path analysis was also conducted to

determine causal relationships. The findings suggest that teacher

quality (enthusiasm, respect, commitment to help students learn,

fairness, praise and reinforcement) seems to be consistently related to

attitude toward mathematics.

Wilkins & Ma (2003) conducted a study to answer questions

about how student attitudes changed from middle school to high

school. Data came from Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY), a

national study, which tracked over 3,000 seventh-grade students for

six years. Information about student affect was collected (via

questionnaires) and three measures created: attitude toward

mathematics, social importance of mathematics (usefulness of math in

daily lives and on the job), and nature of mathematics (whether

changes in science theory over time cause more good than harm). The

findings show that mathematical beliefs and attitudes change

gradually. “However, the important trend highlighted in this study is

that students in secondary school become increasingly less positive

with regard to their attitude toward mathematics and their beliefs in

the social importance on mathematics” (Wilkins & Ma, 2003 p. 58).

Students’ notions of the nature of science showed little change. In

regard to middle school changes, attitude and social importance of

Dislike of Math

mathematics declined at a significantly slower rate (p<.001) for

students with positive teacher push and positive peer influence.

Parental push was also a significant (p<.05) influence. In high school,

positive peer influence (p<.001), positive teacher push (p<.05), and

curriculum (students taking higher math) (p<.001) were related to

slower rates of decline in attitude and social importance. Wilkins and

Ma (2003) make several observations and suggestions such as: “If

teachers hold high expectations and present students with challenging

mathematics, then students may be more likely to enjoy mathematics

and recognize it usefulness” (p. 59) and “teachers’ choice of activities

and mathematics problems can have a strong impact on the values

that are portrayed in the classroom and on how students view

mathematics and its usefulness” (Wilkins and Ma, 2003, p. 59).

Supporting positive peer networks and involving parents in school

activities involving mathematics can help slow decline of students’

negative attitude toward mathematics (Wilkins & Ma, 2003).

Ma & Kishor (1997) conducted a meta-analysis of 113 studies to

examine the relationship between attitude toward math and

achievement in math. Although the study produced no significant

results, there was an indication that junior high may be the most

important period for students to understand and shape their attitude

as it relates to their achievement in math. Therefore, the junior high

years may provide teachers an opportunity to treat negative attitudes

Dislike of Math

toward math and foster high achievement.


It is clear from the research reviewed that math anxiety, motivation,

and attitude all play important roles in whether or not students will

pursue advanced mathematics courses and careers in math related

fields. As the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1991)

suggests, it has not only become acceptable to not be good at

mathematics, but acceptable to be proud of not being good in

mathematics. Many suggestions have been offered to address the

problem, for example: change teaching methods, get students actively

involved in learning mathematics, show students the relevance of

mathematics in their lives, build relationships with the students,

promote a positive affective environment, and create interest in the

mathematics field are just a few. In any case, the affective

environment can play a large role in reversing the trend of negative

attitudes about mathematics, lack of motivation, and the adverse

effect of math anxiety on our students.

Dislike of Math




This chapter describes the methods and procedures of the study

and how data will be collected and analyzed. It will state the purpose

of the study and the research question. Also discussed will be any

limitations of the procedure that may affect the outcome and how the

subjects will be debriefed.


There seems to be a widespread dislike of mathematics. Research

suggests that students who dislike math will avoid taking higher level

math classes and may not seek careers in a math related field or any

field that will require math. The purpose of this study is to determine,

from the students’ perspective, why students dislike mathematics.

Research Question

If students dislike math, what are the reasons?



The sample consisted of 49 eighth grade math students at a rural

northeast Tennessee school. The school has about 800 students and is

K-8. The school consists of mostly white (98%) low to middle income

students from a farming community.


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A confidential survey was given to the students during their normal

math class time. The survey did not ask for names or any other

identifying information. Parents were given an informed consent

request to sign. Once consent was obtained the survey was given. It

consisted of fourteen Likert scale questions and three open ended

questions that asked questions about math anxiety, interest,

motivation, their expected grade, their suggestions to make math

more enjoyable, and their experiences in math. A copy of the survey is

in the appendix.

Data Collection

The researcher collected data on the same day the survey is given.

The data was then be analyzed for results.

Data Analysis

Statistical analysis was performed using Pearson r correlation

analysis and descriptive statistics.


A copy of the results of the survey and conclusions will be made

available to the school and school board office.


The survey will be conducted during the normal math class time

and therefore the students may feel rushed or affected by peer

pressure. The survey was constructed by the researcher and not


Dislike of Math


This chapter focuses on the procedure through which data will be

collected. Students will be asked to fill out a survey to determine if

they dislike math and why. The survey will allow the reasons to be

analyzed to determine if there is a particular reason students dislike


Dislike of Math




This chapter presents the results and conclusions of the data.

The data are analyzed using various statistical methods and presented

in written and graph form.


Of the approximately 90 eighth grade students, 49 returned

consent forms and were given the survey. The survey consisted of 14

Likert scale questions and three open-ended questions. The Likert scale

range was from 1 (strongly agree) to 6 (strongly disagree). A score of 1

also indicates a strong negative attitude toward math for that specific

question. One of the open-ended questions was “what grade do you

think you will make in this class?” which indicates the students

perception of their achievement in that math class. The other two

open-ended questions were related to classroom affective

environment. (see appendix 1)

The students mean score for the 14 Likert scale questions was

compared to their expected grade. The results showed a highly

significant correlation (df=47, r=.704, p<.001) indicating that students

with a negative attitude toward math expect worse grades than those

with positive attitudes. This was an expected result and emphasizes

the need to change negative attitudes toward math. The results are

Dislike of Math

plotted in Graph 1 showing the strong positive correlation.

Scatter Graph




Expected Grade


0 1 2 3 4 5 6
Mean of Scores (df=47, r=.704, p<.001)

Graph 1

The questions covered many areas that could possibly be related

the negative attitudes. Of the 49 students 18 (37 percent) indicated a

dislike for math (see question 1). While there is no comparison to

students who dislike other subject matter areas, 37 percent is a large

number of students who dislike math.

Like vs Dislike



Graph 2

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Graph 3 compares the answers of students who like and dislike

math using the mean for each question.

Answer Comparison

3 Dislike
Answer Like

2 = 1, Disagree = 6

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Graph 3

This study’s focus was on students who dislike math, therefore

those students’ answers are now considered. For the students who

dislike math, there were many answers that were correlated. Some of

the interesting and important correlations are discussed. Table 1 shows

the correlations between answers of the students who indicated they

dislike math. The correlations are for each question compared to every

other question. For example, the first column shows the correlation of

answers on question 1 with questions 2 through 15.

Dislike of Math

n 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
1 1

2 0.129 1

3 0.487 0.233 1
-0.04 -0.01
4 2 0.508 8 1

5 0.025 0.230 0.250 0.104 1

6 0.315 0.414 0.485 0.057 0.263 1

7 0.176 0.534 0.468 0.282 0.455 0.253 1

8 0.267 0.551 0.286 0.220 0.456 0.218 0.447 1

9 0.439 0.020 0.431 0.385 0.219 0.164 0.189 0.006 1

-0.30 -0.40 -0.11
10 0.179 1 0.174 9 0.076 0 0.130 0.036 0.371 1

11 0.153 0.387 0.052 0.322 0.536 0.135 0.453 0.600 0.189 0.098 1

12 0.346 0.170 0.215 0.589 0.348 0.107 0.194 0.422 0.697 0.273 0.595 1
-0.00 -0.28
13 0.166 5 0.234 5 0.484 0.355 0.223 0.338 0.223 0.343 0.365 0.183 1
14 0.025 0.159 0.280 0.354 0.261 0.068 0.311 0.111 0.342 0.196 0.282 0.401 5
15 0 0.197 0.261 0.311 0.257 0.213 0.523 0.410 0.061 0.154 0.408 0.395 0.352

Table 1
(df=34, p<.05=.331, p<.01=.428. p<.001=.527)

Although there are many correlations, three important

correlations related to the research question of this study and previous

research are discussed. First, “I don’t like math” had highly significant

correlations with: “I’m not good at math” and “I dread having to do

math”, and a significant correlation with: “I’m afraid to answer

questions in math class”. Second, “The personality of the math teacher

is not very important” had significant correlations with “Math is too

hard”, “When taking a math test, I usually feel nervous and uneasy”

(highly significant), “I’m afraid to ask questions in math class” (highly

significant), “I’m afraid to answer questions in math class”, and “I will

only take math courses that are required” (highly significant). Lastly, “I

Dislike of Math

will only take math courses that are required” had significant

correlations with “The personality of the math teacher is not very

important”, “Math is boring”, “When taking a math test, I usually feel

nervous and uneasy”, “It scares me to think I will be taking harder

more advanced math”, and “I’m afraid to ask questions in math class.”

Of the 18 students who indicated they dislike math, a tally was

taken of the questions for which the students strongly agreed (1 on the

Likert scale) and is shown in table 2 below.

“It scares me to think I will be taking harder or more advanced 6

“I’ve had at least one year I fell behind in math” 5
“I’m not good at math” 4
“I will only take math courses that are required” 4
“When taking a math test, I usually feel nervous and uneasy” 3
“Math is too hard” 3
“Math is boring” 2
“I dread having to do math” 2
“I’m afraid to answer questions in math class” 1
Table 2

Further insight into students’ thoughts about math and the

classrooms affective environment can be obtained in reviewing

answers to the last two open-ended questions. For this analysis, all

students’ responses were used (like and dislike).

The first question was “What can teachers do to make math

more enjoyable?” Following is a list of the most popular responses

along with the number of students making that suggestion:

Dislike of Math

 Play more math games – 19

 Fun activities/Make it more fun/interesting – 12

 Have group assignments - 5

 Less homework – 4

 Use real life examples – 4

The second question was “Describe your best and worst

experience in math.” The overwhelming responses for both best and

worst experiences were related to achievement (grades, understanding

particular topic, test scores, etc.). Some examples of the students’

answers are:

 “My best experience was when I could answer all the

questions and worst was when I really make a bad grade

on an important test”

 “Ratio was my best and integers was my worst”

 “Best – when I actually started to understand, worst – when

we do algebra”

 “best – making a B, worst – making a C”

 “Well, the best would have to be when I pass a math test. I

have my worst experience when I do poorly on a math



This chapter analyzed the data from the surveys. These results

Dislike of Math

suggest a significant number of students dislike math and there were

several significant correlations between answers that may indicate the

cause of their dislike.

Dislike of Math

Chapter V



This chapter will discuss the findings of the study, implications

for educators, and recommendations for future research.

Summary of Findings

The finding of this study was that 37 percent of the eighth grade

students who took the survey disliked math. This is a large percentage

and indicates how widespread the problem may be. Wilkins and Ma

(2003) found that students’ attitudes toward math became less

positive as they entered high school. Since 37 percent already dislike

math when they leave middle school and they get even less positive in

high school, its no wonder that there is such a widespread dislike of


There was a highly significant correlation (p<.01) of those

students who did not like math and those that indicated they weren’t

good at math. This agrees with the highly significant correlation

(P<.01) between the students answers on the survey and their

expected grade in their current math class. One possible reason

students say they’re not good at math is may be that they had at least

one year they fell behind. Table 2 shows that 5 of the 18 students who

dislike math agreed strongly with that statement. Also, answers on the

open-ended question asking about their best and worst experiences in

Dislike of Math

math were overwhelmingly related to achievement (test scores,

grades, understanding). This indicates that students’ achievement in

math is an important factor in whether or not they like math.

Therefore, this suggests students place a lot of emphasis on extrinsic

motivation. In this case, extrinsic motivation can lead to a negative

attitude toward math.

Affective anxiety also had significant correlations with the dislike

of math. Affective anxiety can be described as nervousness, fear,

dread, or tension (Ho et al., 2000). The two questions: “I dread having

to do math” and “I’m afraid to answer questions in math class” had

significant correlations (p<.01 and p<.05 respectively) with “I don’t

like math.”

There were some other interesting correlations that may shed

some light on why students dislike math. The question: “The

personality of the math teacher is not important,” relates to the

affective environment of the classroom and had significant correlations

to “Math is too hard”, “When taking a math test, I usually feel nervous

and uneasy” (highly significant), “I’m afraid to ask questions in math

class” (highly significant), “I’m afraid to answer questions in math

class”, and “I will only take math courses that are required” (highly

significant). These results suggest that the affective environment in the

classroom (in this case the teachers personality) plays an important

role in the students’ affective anxiety, future plans of the students, and

Dislike of Math

their perception of the difficulty of math.

Previous research has indicated that students with negative

attitudes will avoid taking math classes that are not required or

choosing a career in a math related field. For example, Schiefele &

Csikszentmihalyi (1995) stated “One of the most important reasons for

nurturing a positive attitude in mathematics is that it may increase

one’s tendency to elect mathematics courses in high school and

college and possibly to elect careers in a math related field” (p. 177).

The definition of dislike for this study is the desire to avoid math

classes. The last correlation discussed relates to that definition. The

question: “I will only take math courses that are required” had

significant correlations with the teacher personality, lack of interest

(boring), anxiety, and perceived ability.

Implications for Educators

The results of this study suggests that educators should focus on

improving the classroom affective environment, addressing affective

anxiety, and reducing the effects of negative extrinsic motivation in

order to foster positive attitudes in math. The students gave some

interesting suggestions on how to make math more enjoyable. They

were play more math games, have some fun activities, make it

interesting/relevant, have some group activities, use real life examples,

and less homework. All of these suggestions address the results of this

study. In discussions with the classes, the idea of bringing in

Dislike of Math

professionals in various fields (not just math/science) was offered. The

students seemed to like the idea and it would help them envision

where math fits in the “big picture.” The students were asked whether

they would like and/or use a homework “chat room” where the teacher

would be available during certain times to answer questions. The

students seemed very receptive and excited about the idea. Since

most students had Internet access and since “instant messaging” is so

popular with the students this may be an innovative way to get them

interested in doing homework. One eighth teacher indicated that in

eighth grade the requirements and amount of curriculum to cover

increased greatly over sixth or seventh grades. Thus, she felt she

didn’t have time to engage in most of the students’ suggestions such

as playing math games. This is a conundrum a lot of teachers face.

Educators should look for ways to foster positive attitudes in

students at all grade levels, but since a negative attitude toward math

is evident by eighth grade, educators at earlier grade levels should

help students build positive identities as math learners. For those

students who dislike math, focusing on the students understanding

instead of grades may help counter the negative effects of extrinsic

motivation. The results of this study agree with the findings of Stipek et

al. (2000) which found students enjoyment and positive emotions

toward math were higher when there was a focus on improvement and

mastery over grades. To address the problem of students’ affective

Dislike of Math

anxiety (e.g. being afraid to answer questions in math class), teachers

should focus on creating an emotionally safe environment where

students feel comfortable and know they won’t be looked down upon

by the teacher or other students if they get the answer wrong or don’t

understand. Since falling behind may be reason students say they

aren’t good at math and therefore don’t like math, teachers should

strive to make sure as many students as possible obtain mastery of the

subject. Tutoring is now available in most schools (including the middle

school surveyed) and should be encouraged and expanded. Peer

tutoring during class time or group work may help those students who

are falling behind. Math skills build on earlier skills and understanding

and become more complex.


The survey was conducted at only one school and only 49 of the

approximately 90 eighth graders participated. The school is ethnically

(98% white) and economically (low to middle income) homogeneous

providing no diversity.


The results suggest that the reasons students dislike math are

related to the negative effects of extrinsic motivation, affective anxiety

and the affective environment of the classroom.

Recommendations for Future Research

Since the dislike of math is evident in eighth grade, future

Dislike of Math

research should focus on when students begin to dislike math.

Research should also study the effects of interventions suggested for



This chapter discussed the results and findings of the survey,

implications for educators, and recommendations for future research.

With the widespread dislike of math and focus of government and the

society on improving math and science achievement, educators should

focus on changing these negative attitudes.

Dislike of Math


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