Pencils Down: Experiments in Education

Do You Love or Hate Math and Science?

Quanta Magazine invites readers to share about their early math and science learning experiences and to explore the interactive survey results.

Emily Fuhrman for Quanta Magazine

When did you first fall in love with math or start to hate it? What about science? Did a particular class or subject in school thrill or frustrate you? Did your teachers inspire or discourage you? Part four of Quanta Magazine’s Pencils Down series invites you to share your story and explore everyone’s data points in the interactive graphic above.

If you completed the survey in one of the previous articles, no need to submit your data again. Find your hexagon by adding ?code=# to the end of this page’s URL, where # is the code number you were asked to save (do not include the # symbol). If you’re responding to the survey via the Submit Data button above, save the URL with your code number. All submissions are moderated, and we will try to update the results at least once an hour (January 2017 update: we are now updating results once every weekday) during normal business hours (Eastern Daylight Time). Switch between the math survey (in blue) and the science survey (in purple) by clicking the Science Data and Math Data buttons.

To be sure, this is a thoroughly unscientific survey of a self-selecting population. Yet we hope its value transcends catharsis. Perhaps some clues or meaningful patterns will emerge from your collective anecdotes, which can be filtered by gender, grade level (when you formed your opinion about math or science) and country. Here’s what five of the more than 1,000 initial participants said about math:

Charlie, a 77-year-old American, has loved math since college. He wrote that he “hated math in [grades] 1-12. First day of university math was a wonderful surprise, and the joy built throughout college and grad school.” He said he went on to become a mathematician and computer scientist, and he still does math every day and is now “developing an enrichment course for gifted senior high school students.”

Karen, 57, from Canada, also loves math but said, “I wasn’t much good at arithmetic because I was always in a rush and made silly mistakes, and because no one bothered to teach me about the underlying structure of mathematics, or even that there was one. I loved grade 10 math because of the teacher and because we studied geometry and Euclidean proofs, which I found very beautiful and elegant, and which are sadly no longer taught.”

Luke Simonds, 27, of the United States said he feels OK about math now, but that he “developed a very negative attitude toward math starting in about the fourth grade. I think that what drove that most was the speed drills or ‘math minutes’ where we were asked to solve a certain number of equations as quickly as possible. I was and continue to be terrible at math when under pressure like that, which then soured me toward math in later grades, and I never put in enough effort to become truly proficient. I’m more curious now, but of course have less time to sit down and learn.”

Deniz, an 8-year-old Australian, hates math, saying simply that “it is boring and difficult.”

A 16-year-old American boy was even more pessimistic, saying that he hates math because “the math that’s being taught has no relevance to my life and the teachers themselves [are] saying, ‘Learn it now to get through it, but after college you’ll never need it.’”

We want to hear your stories. Please add your hexagon and pass this along.

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