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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE 15th September 2005 Sarah Parsons Self-Confidence In Mathematics Helping Everyone Learn Mathematics Conference

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Is there an ‘attitude towards mathematics’ problem? I can’t do maths I don’t like maths Why was it ever invented? It’s cool to be poor at mathematics and we’ve got to change that’ Smith, R., 2003, Professional Engineering

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Lack of Skills and Lack of Confidence The ‘mathematics problem’ is usually described as a skills problem, but this has two aspects: the knowledge of mathematical techniques/facts, and the confidence to make use of them … To develop students’ mathematical confidence is a slow process, which cannot be achieved through quick remediation, unlike the problem of ‘filling in’ some gaps in mathematical knowledge. Kent, P. and Noss, R., 2003 Mathematics in the University Education of Engineers

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Defining & Measuring Attitudes to Learning Maths What attitudes do students have? What effect do these attitudes have? How many students does this affect? What type of students does this affect? Where/when/why did these attitudes arise? Tip of the iceberg – most effects unseen What can be done about it?

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE What do we mean by Self-Confidence in Maths? 3 Levels are proposed: Overall confidence –‘I can do Maths’ vs. ‘I can’t do Maths’ –Overall belief in one’s maths ability –Can obstruct learning Task level confidence –Varies according to task and experience Apply Maths confidence –Apply maths in new/practical situations

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Questionnaires May 2005 Approx. 250 questionnaires 1 st & 2 nd year, Degree & HND students All undergraduate engineering mathematics & statistics modules Engineering, Business, Surveying, Agriculture, Animal Health students Administered in final lectures by lecturers Positive bias of samples

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Harper Adams Background Small, friendly, specialist HE college Aspire CETL - Advancing Skills for Professionals in the Rural Economy 1700 FTE students (approx.) All students are taught some Maths/Stats Mathematics Support since 2001 Agriculture subject has 2nd highest levels of dyslexia nationally (HESA)

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE

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Well-designed Modules Modules recognised internally for excellence Good student achievement & progression Handouts provided Designed for diverse students - basics revised Student exercises – by hand and computer Mathematics Support provided Q. ‘Which aspects of the module hindered your learning?’ Most common response is ‘None’

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Non-Engineering Students’ Confidence Maths/Stats/Life A2 Students % AS Students % GCSE Grade A % Other Qual's % GCSE Grade B % GCSE Grade C % GCSE Grade D % Total Students116 Conf Maths Conf Stats Conf Life Maths cp.Life Stats cp. Life Maths cp.Stats Like Maths Like Stats Motivation Choose ? Number = Mean Rating 1-5

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Conclusions for Non- Engineers’ Statistics Modules A2, AS and GCSE Grade A students are confident in maths and stats –Confidence in Maths > Stats > Life GCSE Grade B and below are generally not confident –Confidence in Stats < Maths < Life Only maths A2 students would choose to study the stats module (some of whom were bored) 70+% students are reluctant to study statistics

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE GCSE Grade B students Surprise that Grade B are not confident A quarter rate Confidence = 1 or 2 54% rate Maths below Life confidence Grade B student comment examples: Bad experiences with maths previously have made me have little confidence in my maths ability now. So don't try very hard as believe will get it wrong anyway. (Intermediate tier)

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE GCSE Grade B Student Negative Previous Experiences ‘A lot, didn't like it from the start and my opinion hasn't changed’ ‘Affected it greatly, already had a dislike to maths so consequently don't like anything to do with numbers now. (Higher tier) ‘Definitely knocked my confidence at school’ (Higher tier) Maths at GCSE level was boring, causing a repulsive reaction to APD stats (Higher tier)

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Engineering Students’ Confidence Maths/Stats/Life BEng Students % BSc Students % HND Students % Total Students % Conf Maths Conf Stats Conf Life Maths cp.Life Stats cp. Life Maths cp.Stats Like Maths Like Stats Motivation Choose ? Number = Mean rating 1-5

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Conclusions for Engineers’ Mathematics Modules All Engineers on average have medium confidence - Life > Maths > Stats Majority 80% would choose to study Engineering Mathematics More motivated than Non-Engineers Common helpful attitudes - ‘Maths is necessary’, ‘has to be done’, ‘get on and do it’ Don’t necessarily like Mathematics

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Topic vs. Apply Maths Confidence Different confidence ratings given for different topics, as expected Overall Topic (as learned in the module) ratings slightly higher than Applying Maths (to work or research) confidence ratings Some students rated Applying maths to research or work > topic confidence, possibly due to thinking –They would have improved by then –They would ‘have to do it’ then, where necessity overcomes reluctance

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Other Findings Q. Since when have you felt this level of Confidence in Mathematics? –Forever / always / a long time –Since GCSE, Q. ‘When did you last enjoy something in Maths? –Never, a long time ago, can’t remember (common) –GCSE, Last week (rare response) Practical applications increase motivation / enjoyment Use of Computers / Excel was most helpful aspect of the Statistics Modules More positive aspects of modules given than negatives

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HARPER ADAMS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Conclusions Many students lack confidence in their mathematical ability (<= GCSE Maths Grade B) Confidence in ability in Statistics is less than for Maths The 3 levels of confidence have been validated by the questionnaires Students comments on HAUC modules are mainly good Confidence level is generally decided well before university There is room for improvement!

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