contributed by: Luke Wolcott
go back to category: Reading & Writing


This is an activity proposal, and has not been tried yet. It consists of two parts: a class discussion about the different types of math and different ways of approaching math, and then a written assignment reflecting on personal experience in the course.

Description of activity

This activity would be oriented towards students who are inclined to dislike math, perhaps lower-level courses.

I once read the metaphor of the three blind mice being applied to mathematics. One mouse feels the rough skin, one feels the tree trunk legs, one feels the smooth tusks; each thinks they are interacting with a different object, but they are interacting with different aspects of the same object. If you look at math a certain way, it is rigid and objective; if you look at it another way it is organic and subjective. Often I think students who dislike math have only seen certain types of math. They’ve formed their opinion based on partial information.

In a class discussion, we would brainstorm different things that one might like or not like about mathematics. Possible items:
  • The challenging concepts; the struggle and accomplishment.
  • The certainty. You know that you know. Follow steps, get the answer.
  • The applications to real life, or to other classes.
  • The intrinsic beauty of math for its own sake. Surprising, neat results. Intricacies in this strange world unto itself.
  • The power of making sense of things, equations, pictures.

Related, we could make a list of what types of math students like or do not like to do: partner work, exploratory group worksheets, independent work, reading.

By generating lists like these, students could recognize the different facets of mathematics.

Once the lists have been brainstormed, the students are given a writing assignment. Reflect on these different aspects of math, and different modes of doing math. Addressing each one, which do you like, which do you hate? Give examples from the current coursework.

One of the benefits of this activity is that the feedback could help the instructor adjust the style of teaching to fit the students.