Why do bright, motivated college students struggle with math? Often to the point that it seems an insurmountable barrier capable of derailing them from the pathway toward college degrees and careers of their choosing?
Because, according to math instructor Julie Harland, students have misconceptions about learning math, why they should, and whether they can. Along their educational paths, they’ve picked up the idea that math either comes easily to a gifted few or for the rest of us, will always be too difficult to understand. Because, as the typical student explains, “I’m not a math person.”
Julie can empathize; she admits it’s entirely possible that during 12 years of schooling a student may have missed out on receiving math instruction from a teacher who majored in math, loves the subject, or specializes in teaching it. It can take only one bad experience, she notes, for a person to develop an aversion to math, not likely to be countered in a society populated by math phobics.
However during 29 years teaching math, Julie has seen that anyone willing to put in the time can do well at math. She explains, “Learning math requires participation; working through problems leads to real comprehension. There is no special mental capability; its time on task with this subject. It’s more like learning an instrument, which takes lots of practice, but the result is worth it. I tell them, ‘math is fun and you can do it.’”
A semester with Julie, whose love of both math and teaching drives her efforts, can be a refreshing change for students. Holding a master’s degree in math from UCSD, she has a deep appreciation for the subject and provides clear explanations of the mechanics as well as the broad applications.
So committed is she to her belief that everyone can master math, she’s made it her mission to provide worldwide access to her class. Julie has created almost 1,000 ten-minute math lessons, each addressing a specific topic, and posted them on YouTube, a video sharing Web site. Anyone with an Internet-accessing device can watch the videos, and site calculations show they are viewed 1,000 times a day. Extremely gratifying for Julie is the feedback from those educators and students who write to thank her for providing open access to high quality mathematics instruction.
Julie’s goal is to provide the tools that enable students to realize their own intellectual capacities to learn and enjoy mathematics. Mistaken notions of its superfluousness to “real lives” are corrected by students themselves as they gain competence and comprehension of the subject whose logic underlies all of the arts and sciences. A positive experience can rectify a student’s confidence and appreciation for math.
"Students know they need to pass college math, yet many think it’s knowledge they’ll never use again. I tell them: while they may not go to work and be asked to solve algebra equations, they will be expected to solve problems. Understanding mathematical concepts and applications enables someone to examine a problem, recognize the larger context, and logically break it down to resolution."