When Being Good at Math Is Not Enough: How Students’ Beliefs About the Nature of Mathematics Impact Decisions to Pursue Optional Math Education


Math learning is a notoriously difficult process for children and adults, resulting in very few qualified science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) college graduates. However, the lack of math and science graduates is not solely because of low ability in math fields; high achieving math students also opt out of optional math education, emphasizing the importance of the individual’s subjective perception and experience in addition to objective ability in determining whether an individual pursues math. The transition from secondary to postsecondary math education is a time when subjective experiences become particularly salient; this is the time students begin to make important decisions about their own educational path and career future. In this chapter, we will focus on the beliefs students have about the nature of mathematics, discussing how these general beliefs impact students’ specific beliefs about themselves in relation to math and how these personal reactions impact his or her persistence in math education. Although there may be many beliefs students hold that deter them from math, we will focus on two categories of beliefs: (1) about the nature of math ability and (2) the nature of the math domain as a field. While reviewing the research on these beliefs, we will discuss how these beliefs interact with affective experiences and impact feelings of self-efficacy, math anxiety, math interest, and value judgments. Ultimately, we aim to shed light on ways in which beliefs and attitudes about the math domain interact with subjective experiences, including affective experiences, of the transition from secondary to postsecondary math education to create a sense of belonging (or not) in the math domain.

Understanding Emotions in Mathematical Thinking and Learning
Michelle Hurst
Michelle Hurst
Assistant Professor

My research interests include mathematical development and variations in performance across contexts.