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Feelings about Maths

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 27 May 2010 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 02 November 2010 by ncetm_administrator

Feelings about Maths

This is an activity that can be used as a follow-up to the “Personal journey” activity, especially if it is done with a specialist group of Mathematics teachers. The purpose of the activity is to provide people with an analysis of the sources of their feelings and those of other people about Mathematics.

Introducing the activity

This activity is based on work by Hannula1 who has developed and tested an analysis of the emotional content of attitudes to Mathematics. It is very useful in teasing-out the sources of negative (and positive) feelings people have about the subject. Feelings about Mathematics can be:

  • immediate to the situation at hand;
  • based on learned habits of emotional association;
  • based on expectations of personal encounter;
  • felt in relation to personal life-goals.

Understanding the source of such feelings can have a significant bearing on how one might respond to them in practice. In more detail:

Immediate to the situation at hand

While a person is engaged in mathematical activity they make a continuous unconscious evaluation of their progress in relation to their personal goals. Successful progress induces positive emotions while lack of progress can induce negative emotions such as anger, fear or sadness.

A typical associated statement might be:

'I'm getting on well/badly with this.'

Based on learned habits of emotional association

If a person is asked to call to mind some aspect of Mathematics they are likely to experience an emotional reaction based on associations with past experiences. This is likely to be immediate and could be quite strong, especially if it is a negative association.

A typical associated statement might be:

'Oh gosh, statistics; I loved/hated that.'

Based on expectations of personal encounter

A more sustained indirect encounter with Mathematics can result in an expectation of consequences that will also have an emotional component. This is different from the previous evaluation which is a fairly immediate emotional response. This is more a judgement about how an encounter with Mathematics might turn out.

Typical associated statements might be:

'I'm good at Maths – let’s have a look at it, I look forward to solving problems.'


'Oh no! I always get this sort of thing wrong. Please don’t ask me to do this.'

Felt in relation to personal life-goals.

A more reflective encounter with Mathematics can result in an evaluation of Mathematics in relation to personal life goals and how important or irrelevant it might be to the things that the person sees as important in life.

Typical associated statements might be:

'Why do I need to know any Mathematics? I’m going to be an actor!'


'I really need to get better at Mathematics if I am to get a job with an accountancy firm.'


First reflect individually on these four emotional “evaluations”. Do you recognise any or all of them in your personal experience?

In small groups consider the following questions:

  • How might these different “evaluations” arise in practice?
  • How can they be distinguished?
  • What might be an appropriate response to each one?
  • What might be an inappropriate response?

Plenary feedback

Receive feedback from each group. The important outcome for this activity is that people recognise the different sources of feelings about Mathematics and choosing an appropriate response to a particular expression of feeling depends on identifying its source.

  1. Hannula, M.S. (2002) “Attitude towards Mathematics: Emotions, Expectations and values” Educational Studies in Mathematics vol. 49, pp 25-46. Available online here 




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