FACING THE DRAGON

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Photo Illustration | Claire Bohning | The Broadside

It might seem scary, but learning math can be all breath and no bite

Kirsteen Wolf
The Broadside

For students enrolled in a developmental math class, stepping into the classroom after years away from school or with a phobia about their ability with numbers, is like facing a large, snarling dragon.

Central Oregon Community College offers six math classes that build on one another to lead students to Math 111, college algebra, which is a core requirement for many degrees. Students are introduced math that they either didn’t learn or have forgotten.

But they are often facing more of an uphill battle that just familiarizing themselves with math concepts. Often their fears threaten to get the better of them.

Justin Lair, a recent Math 10 student came back to school knowing that his math was weak.

“It was actually something that had kept me from coming back previously,” he said.

Many students in the developmental math classes have had similar relationships with math. The uncertainty can be enough to keep them away from a successful school experience.

“I think the notion of being a failure comes into play,” said Lair. “You feel so stupid having to attend the lowest level math class.”

“[But] everybody has to start somewhere,”he said.

Embracing an image of yourself as a learner as Lair has done may be what separates students who succeed from those that give up.

Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist, describes the effect of having a fixed outlook in her 2006 book “Mindset.” People believe that “their basic qualities like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits” so instead of developing these qualities, they spend time reaffirming their fixed nature in the believe that “talent alone creates success.” Dweck believe this is fundamentally wrong.

“It isn’t an issue of having the right genetic make-up or being smart, but instead it is being willing to work hard at finding holes, filling them and working to succeed,” said Julie Keener, a COCC math instructor.

There are countless success stories from people who have signed up for developmental classes with trepidation and emerged stronger and more confident.

“One of the most profound “breakthroughs” that can happen to a student is when they realize that their past performance in math doesn’t need to be a predictor of their potential for future success,” said Keener.

Gary Schwartz recently took math 10 and is working his way through developmental writing classes. He feels that there are elements that will help students succeed.

“Don’t be afraid and don’t overload with other classes,”said Schwartz. “Set aside some time to learn [math] and you will.”

You can contact Kirsteen Wolf at kwolf@cocc.edu

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