Many college students’ experiences include taking a university-level math course. Whether it’s getting through the minimum requirements for a bachelor of science or extensive classes for a mathematics major, University of Oregon students will find themselves pouring over math books and frantically pressing buttons on their scientific calculators.
For many students, part of the struggle that comes with math classes is the anxiety of taking them. Michelle Lo, a senior undergraduate in the math department who was also an undergraduate teaching assistant for Math 105 and 106 last year, said that a big problem is students feeling that they’re “inherently bad at math.”
“Most students can actually think about mathematical ideas when they’re not represented in the typical mathematical way that we see in a classroom,” Lo said. “For example, getting asked about a finance question on a test might bring a lot of anxiety for a student, but asked to find the price of a shirt at a store, they’re completely capable of doing the math.”
Senior Instructor and Assistant Math Department Head Mike Price said the math department is always trying to improve. Price said the department is trying to make their best instructors the “face” of their introductory classes, especially during fall term when students feel the most anxiety about taking math classes.
Price added that the department is also trying to take stress off of students by fixing the costs of their required materials and curriculum.
Price said students often go into math courses thinking that the subject matter will pick up from where it left off in high school, but often that’s not the case.
“We routinely see students who identify as having taken calculus in high school, but place into a college algebra course at UO,” Price said. “This can be disheartening for everyone involved, but I believe in meeting students where they are.”
Price understands that students can be worried about taking math classes like 105 or 106 which have about 100 students enrolled in them.
“Some students may have concerns about some of our larger format courses, compared to the majority of our sections which are offered in more personal small sections that allow individual attention,” Price said.
Junior physics major Jordyn Mascareñas said she enjoys math, but wonders how much of the subject material in the higher math classes that she’s required to take she’ll actually use.
“As you start moving up, I feel like it becomes less applicable to things and more theoretical-type math,” Mascareñas said. “I think that’s been the thing that I’ve struggled with is if there’s going to be enough of it that I’m actually going to use in my physics degree.”
Mascareñas is also deciding whether to take on a math major along with her physics major, or to take a math minor since the required classes are so similar. Mascareñas said the best thing a student who is struggling in math can do is go to office hours, which she didn’t know about as a freshman.
“It’s essentially additional help specifically for what you’re doing,” said Mascareñas. “It’s the time to ask questions in a low- stress environment. Once I started going to office hours my sophomore year, I felt like I had a much better grasp on what the professor expected.”
Price also said he tries to make his larger classes feel smaller by giving in-class exercises and reaching out directly to students who are struggling. But it’s also on the student to engage and arrive to their math classes ready to learn, and to be prepared for the challenges that the classes might produce, Price says.
“I’d like students to have high hopes and expectations for courses in our department,” Price said. “We want students to feel supported by the department and to feel that we are partners in their learning, there to help them succeed, and willing to listen and help when they have concerns.”
This article has been edited to fix an error.