Mathematics for Those Who Hate Mathematics

Julianne M. Labbiento
Bridges: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music, and Science (2002)
Pages 247–255


Students in liberal arts mathematics classes seem to have one defining characteristic - a lack of confidence in their mathematical ability. Their main goal on the first day of class is to simply make it to the last day of class with a grade that will sufficiently show that they are mathematically competent, so that they will never have to take another mathematics course for as long as they live. Having to teach two or more classes of 35 to 40 students each with this type of attitude is a challenge. One solution I have found is to teach the entire course with a base in the arts. I have used this approach in teaching classes to students from age 7 through college, and the results are almost unanimous. While the students may not admit that they "like" mathematics at the end of the course, most will admit to appreciating it. And most will also admit that just hearing the word "mathematics" doesn't strike fear in them the way it did on the first day of class. To me, this is a success. This is why I teach. To catch that glimmer of appreciation in an otherwise indignantly closed eye. This paper will share some of the topics and activities that I have used in my classes, as well as some of the outstanding results.