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How can we attract students to study mathematics at university?

  1. Oct 15, 2011 #1
    How can we attract students to study mathematics at university?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 16, 2011 #2
    Re: Students

    Tell them they can get rich doing it?

    Nah, I'm kidding. I think the problem is the curriculum. Mathematics is an amazingly fascinating subject, but ask almost anyone in the UK (even university students who don't do maths) and it's VERY likely they will say that they hate maths/can't do maths. I think this is usually a mix of people having very bad teachers and learning very boring mathematics.

    When I tell people that I do maths, they say "oh, so you must be good with really large numbers and arithmetic". This is so telling. It seems the curriculum is designed to try and teach kids as much "useful" mathematics as they can- to teach them to enter numbers into an algorithm and get results. They don't care so much whether or not the students actually know what they are doing, we are almost teaching kids to be mini calculators. What we should be doing is teaching kids interesting mathematics that will allow them to be able to easily learn these sort of skills on their own without forcing them to have to know how to compute a student t-test, for example.

    So the answer is simple- expose children to interesting mathematics! (and possibly make them do more of it)
  4. Oct 16, 2011 #3
    Re: Students

    i definitely agree with you on the fact that kids are being taught boring things. i am a tenth grader still in highschool, and although i am greatly concerned about my grades and knowledge, i don't like what i learn. in my opinion, you shouldn't need contrapositives to understand a sentence when you have logic and reasoning. young people who would even consider studying math on a college level should be able to understand simple things like "if it rains, i will not go swimming." it is quite obvious that as long as this is true, you can say it differently and have the same meaning without using symbols and truth values. logic, people.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2011
  5. Oct 16, 2011 #4
    Re: Students

    You learn logic before you go to university? We don't in the UK- I think getting kids able to manipulate logical statements would be very beneficial actually. It doesn't take long to teach what the contrapositive of a statement is, and even when I saw this for the first time at university I found it rather illuminating.

    I think that a fundamental understanding of how logical proofs work and should be formed is something that everyone should learn at some point, even if they aren't thinking about going into maths- one of my most hated things about society is that people can think they are making a good argument and be talking absolute gibberish! I know that a knowledge of logic wouldn't solve this, but getting people to think about what does and doesn't count for a logical deduction, I feel, would be amazingly beneficial.
  6. Oct 17, 2011 #5
    Re: Students

    ah, i see. the solution to these problems is understanding when to introduce certain components of the curriculum and how much information is too much. for example, you don't need inverses, converses, biconditionals, logical equivalence, truth values, and all the properties concerning the subject. the symbols and charts are all potentially confusing to an average student and aren't necessarily needed in describing a contrapositive. it all comes back to determining exactly what is overkill. though an understanding of logical proofs would certainly be beneficial, the fact is that if you go too deep into the subject, you lose the attention of the students.

    half the class pays only little attention to my math teacher. that is a fact.
  7. Oct 17, 2011 #6
    Re: Students

    Students tend to see mathematics as a rigid, regimented area of study. That's not the case in later courses which can get quite creative in interpretation. Learners need a sense of ownership over their own education to get to those later stages, or else they will lose interest. I've found students who find visual or tactile means to describe difficult concepts will share a stronger bond with the content over a student who may be learning through rote memory.
  8. Oct 18, 2011 #7
    Re: Students

    I can't disagree with anything you've said there.
  9. Oct 18, 2011 #8


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    Re: Students

    Maybe you should ask students why they did choose or not choose mathematics as a major in university.

    In terms of high paying jobs, a lot of the ambitious students are finding out that math is an option in terms of getting high paid work, and offers a path with a substantial amount of debt relative to something like law or medicine.

    For the people that don't care about money, mathematics is usually up these peoples ally's. I don't think you're going to find a pure math major concerned with getting a six figure job after graduation.

    The other thing would be to see what high school students perceive of math. I have tutored a few people in math, and some of them see math as basically cranking a shaft to get the right answer.

    They are taught that things like balancing equations are "rules" and you have to follow the "rules". As a poster mentioned above, this kind of "non-creative" environment may be an indicator as to why people think math is boring, and quite frankly I don't blame them.

    If you want to get more people into maths, it would probably help to have the right people teaching it, especially in high school. Teachers can make such a massive difference in influencing students that a lot of us can take for granted the power of a brilliant teacher can do for our future endeavors.
  10. Oct 18, 2011 #9
    Re: Students

    This is a very good point- kids often learn how to do certain things in mathematics, but don't learn why they're doing it. Some leave school without knowing how to properly manipulate fractions- this is madness. They are taught all the rules for doing it, and can often apply them but don't understand why these rules are there.

    We should be teaching kids why they are learning these concepts and why the rules make sense, as well as the other fundamentals which go towards allowing you to learn general mathematics. Not only do I think that it would be really illuminating for them to learn these things, I also think it would be better for developing their logic, it would make the things they learn less susceptible to be forgotten and it will allow easier access for them learning new mathematics- at the moment learning each new module in mathematics is like learning a totally new thing but if they understood some very fundamental basic logic, they could pick it up more easily and quickly. And it would also be more fun for the students, the thing I personally love about mathematics over something like history is that you really feel a progression when learning it because you are learning concepts and not just memorizing facts, which maths needs to steer well away from.

    We need to stop teaching kids rules and start teaching kids the skills so that they can make their own rules!
  11. Oct 18, 2011 #10
    Re: Students

    The textbooks are too complex.
    Math ideas are really quite simple at the HS level.
    But the books are written by Profs trying to impress Administrators
    and other Profs. They are not written for the average student with
    clarity and simplicity in mind.

    Singapore does it much better than most.
  12. Oct 18, 2011 #11


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    Re: Students

    Why do we need to attract more students to study mathematics? Is there a shortage of pure mathematicians? On the contrary, my experience has been that people that do major in mathematics have trouble finding jobs in their field.
  13. Oct 18, 2011 #12
    Re: Students

    That doesn't mean that they aren't valuable in fields which aren't pure mathematics. I think this sums up what I'm trying to say:

  14. Oct 19, 2011 #13
    Re: Students

    thank you! i can't learn a thing straight from a math textbook. even what others may think is simple is not from a bored higschooler's point of view.
  15. Oct 19, 2011 #14
    Re: Students

    Well the first problem is maybe a 10th of the population ( I may even be way high here) has a clue to what a mathematician does, much less what careers are involved with such a degree.
    And of course the MATH IS HARD part of growing up in the normal schools.

    I had a discussion a couple of years ago with a university student in which I noticed had a great aptitude for math. What stopped her was simply the amount of courses needed to get the degree. Well at least she looked into it.
    Microbiology is what she ended up with a degree in.
    Regrettable due to her ability to grasp the concepts and ability to preform in the math classes she took.
    I do know what ever she decided to take her graduate study in she will be great at.
  16. Nov 14, 2011 #15
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