Undergrad Researcher: Greta Flaaten

Faculty Advisor: Virginia Horak

Students’ Reasoning for Fleeing Mathematics-Related Fields

The Third International mathematics and Science Study found that the 12th graders in the United States ranked 19th of 21 industrialized nations in 1999 in mathematics.  This underscores that George Bush’s proclaimed goal to have students perform number one by the year 2000 was far from being reached.  During the year 2009, it is expected that two million engineers, scientists, technologists will retire, and there will not be enough graduates with mathematics background to replace these workers and many new more positions in a growing society: technologically and population-wise.  This serious shortage shouts failure due to ill-prepared students in mathematics, but why was it a failure? 

The theme of “Students’ Reasoning for Fleeing Mathematics-Related Fields” is to discover that “why,” which can only be determined through student reflection on their mathematical experiences in middle school and in high school.  Therefore, I have developed a questionnaire that questions college students enrolled in College Algebra, Elementary Mathematics, Calculus I, and Vector Calculus about their confidence level, influences, and types of experiences in mathematics.  These mathematics courses were chosen to be a part of the study because the students in these courses are of mathematics-related and non-mathematics-related fields.   The finished questionnaire, the Human Subjects Project Approval Form, the Disclaimer Form, and the Oral Disclaimer Form were submitted to Human Subjects the week of December 8, 2003.  The official proposed purpose of this study was described in the Project Approval Form as an opportunity to better understand of why students are not pursuing mathematics-related careers.  This goal may be utilized in order to inform educators so as to attract more students to the field of study. 

            Upon receiving the accepted Human Subjects Project Approval Form, I plan to begin asking permission from professors of College Algebra, of Elementary Mathematics, of Calculus I, and of Vector Calculus to go to their classroom in order to invite their students to participate in the study.  Students may volunteer to complete the questionnaire and submit the questionnaire on sight or to Virginia Horak’s box in the mathematics department.  Once I have at least 100 competed questionnaires, I will analyze the data that will lead to a better understanding of why students avoid mathematics-related careers.       

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US Department of Education (1990).  National Goals for Education.  Washington, DC.