Disliking math and science: Affective domain assessment

I enjoy learning and sharing that joy with learners. Rousseau in Emile suggested that learning should be enjoyable to the Emile who is engaged in that learning. In the tragic event that Emile does not survive to adulthood, that schooling should not be seen by Emile himself as a waste of his short time on earth. Schooling that purports to teach skills only useful in some future context risks this outcome. The Jeffersonian general education that builds towards the formation of a well-rounded person includes subjects that the learner might never utilize in their future vocation or career. These subjects have a special onus to not leave the learner saying, "Well that was 45 hours of my life I will never get back!"

I seek to engender learning, yet I also seek to share the wonder and joy of the subject I am teaching. Exponential functions, trigonometry, and physical science are not typically courses that evoke fond memories in former students. In addition to engendering learning, I hope to improve affective domain attitudes towards these subjects.

In MS 101 Algebra and Trigonometry a survey of 22 students indicated that prior to the class seven students disliked mathematics, thirteen were neutral, and two said they liked mathematics. During the term only one students expressed dislike for the course, ten students were neutral, and eleven students liked the course. After taking the class fifteen students were neutral towards mathematics and seven liked mathematics.


At the start of the term only two students had thought about being a mathematics major. At the end of the course six students, including the two who were favorably disposed to math at the start of the term, were now giving thought to majoring in mathematics. A few students thanked me at the end of the summer term for having had fun in algebra and trigonometry. The college has a vision of engendering a life long passion for learning, yet without a like for a subject that life long learning is rather unlikely to occur.

A similar survey was run in SC 130 Physical Science. Among the fourteen students only two disliked science as a subject at the start of the term, science was not perceived as negatively as mathematics.This course also improved students enjoyment of science.


Of the fourteen students only one had thought about majoring in science prior to the class. At the end of the course six of fourteen had thought about majoring in science. With the core of the course being an attempt to show how nature is mathematical, sparking an interest in science as a pursuit of mathematical models of reality among students with limited mathematics skills is a challenge. The course has to build the prerequisite mathematics skills necessary to appreciating the mathematical nature of the physical world. In order to see the beauty, the magic in a mathematical universe, the student has to comprehend equations as models, mathematics in an applied context.

Changing attitudes towards physical science is sometimes done in a non-major science course by removing the mathematics and running the course as a science appreciation course. SC 130 Physical Science has put mathematics at the core of a class for non-majors. Granted, the mathematics is non-calculus based math. Many laboratories focus on a simple linear relationship, but this is necessary when only one or two students of fourteen can calculate a slope from a linear graph or a linearly related data set at the term start. At term end fourteen of fifteen students could determine a slope from a graph and ten of fifteen students could determine a slope from linearly related data. The course retains the mathematical beauty of the natural sciences in a non-major course while building positive feelings towards science.

Mathematics and science are not usually liked subjects among non-majors, yet both the trigonometry and physical science course have improved student attitudes towards the subjects. The courses have even increased the number of students who would at least consider majoring in the field. These are soft impacts not usually measured in the emphasis on cognitive domain student learning outcomes, yet both the affective and psychomotor domains are also important. At the college, course outlines primarily focus on cognitive outcomes, yet if the college is to fully realize its vision of creating life long learners, then courses must also engender a liking for the subjects being taught at the college.



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