One of the unexpectedly weird things about being a math teacher and math teacher educator is that when I meet new people and they ask what I do professionally, often their response is, “Oh, I was never good at math,” “I can’t do math,” or even, “I hate math.” I have sometimes wondered if there is any other profession that gets this response? It happens consistently, and also in really oddly inappropriate settings!

I was able to dig into this a bit while I was working on my PhD. During that time, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach a math class for prospective elementary teachers. This was a course that was offered to undergraduates, and often the students who took it had previously had discouraging or damaging experiences with math. One of the activities I often started the quarter with is that I asked students to complete the sentence stem:

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**“If math were a food, it would be _________ because ___________ .“**

You might take a moment to complete that sentence for yourself before you read further!

Usually, many of the answers were things like spinach and broccoli, with the explanation that “I don’t like it, but it's good for me.” A few students would say pie, or pizza because of their associations with fractions, and in many classes, the most common answer was rice - with the explanations ranging from “it’s a staple, it goes with everything,” to “I don’t love/like it, but it’s good for me.”

Recently when I was cleaning out some files, I found the Math Autobiography at the top of this blog one of my former students wrote early in the quarter. This was not an uncommon sentiment in the class.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I facilitated a professional learning session at a conference and asked the participants when they experienced *JOY *in mathematics. One participant (I’ll use the pseudonym Carly in this blog) shared that she doesn’t associate joy with math - hard stop. Carly gave us the gift of her honesty - math had not been a good experience for her, she doesn’t believe she can do math, and she was only in the session to ensure that this is not the experience the students in her district walk away with.

In the session, after we talked about joy in general, and in math, we did an assignment in Magma with four problems focused on fractions and percents. One of the problems that we did was this one:

Here is a sampling of the solutions that teachers created:

We had a wonderful chat about the different ways we had solved the problem. We talked about how there were different ways to represent 1/2 and 3/10 of the garden, and different ways to represent the answer. We also discussed Student 4’s solution, and had a lovely conversation about how Student 4 answered a question correctly, just not the question the problem was asking.

Then I asked the group if they experienced joy while doing and discussing the mathematics. Everyone in the room responded positively, including Carly. Then Carly told the group that I had shown her response to the problem to the whole group during the discussion. Having her work shown and discussed made her feel good! She characterized it as joyful and affirming!

Research tells us that being seen as a doer of mathematics and knowing that our ideas matter helps us develop a positive mathematical identity. It helps us believe that we **CAN** do math and that we **ARE** math people. Making sure that our students have moments of joy and view math as something creative that makes sense is part of the story - as is making sure that **every** student in our class has the opportunity to have their thinking seen and valued by our learning community!