Why some Teens Dislike Math and Science

Math and science, as school subjects, tend to evoke very strong reactions in people.  These areas are either loved, or hated.  There is seldom any middle ground.  With the emphasis in our time on the importance of these subjects in our fate as a nation, it’s helpful to take a look at the factors that influence a student’s like or dislike of either subject.  If students are to be encouraged more in these areas, after all, it’s important to understand what is causing the disconnect.

Before one can analyze dislike of math and science, it would be helpful to analyze other dislikes.  It would be somewhat ridiculous to expect every person to like the color, yellow, for example.  While pizza is a favorite food of many, it’s conceivable that there are people who dislike it.  Some people like dogs, some prefer cats, and some dislike animals altogether.  Expecting all teens to like math or science, then, is also unrealistic. 

Some students naturally appreciate math or science.  However, lumping the two subject areas together is also unrealistic.  Biology is very different from physics.  The study of formal geometry is extremely different from algebra.  While sciences and math intertwine, and influence one another, there are distinct divisions and studies within the categories.  A student may love algebra, and loathe geometry.  Physics may be puzzling, while biology may be engaging and intriguing.  Dislike of math does not always equate to disdain for science, nor vice versa.

~Missed Skills

When a student expresses that he dislikes science or math, there may be a number of factors involved.  A common reason for a student’s dislike of any subject is a lack of understanding.  The student who is lost is not going to have any love for the subject.  The state of “lost” may be due to poor instruction, or it may be due to poor study skills.  It may be a combination of the two. 

Math and science classes generally build through the year on skills as they are taught.  If a student doesn’t grasp a concept, the teacher must move on with the curriculum, as the full curriculum must be taught through the course of the year.  The student, unless he puts in extra time to catch up, is left behind, as those skills not learned influence future learning.

~Instructional Styles

Some of the issues in terms of a student’s dislike of math and science courses may be rooted in the manner of teaching used to convey subject matter.  Many high school courses are taught via traditional lecture.  Hands-on learning is limited to occasional labs in science classes.  Most math teachers give examples on the chalkboard or overhead projector, and assign problems.  This can be dry and boring in the eyes of any number of students, leading to a dislike of the subject.

~Learning Styles

Related to teaching styles, student learning styles also play an important part in student dislike of math or science.  Visual learners do well enough with written examples.  Auditory learners can absorb verbal instruction.  However, hands on learning, essential for the tactile learner’s success, is limited in its use in science, and even more limited in math.  Meanwhile, students who deal well with analytical material will tend to thrive in these subjects.  Unfortunately, those who function more aptly with the creative sides of their brains are generally restricted in math and science, and do not thrive.  Where a student doesn’t thrive, he generally doesn’t like the subject.  Hence, it is not unusual for the creative student to excel in arts and humanities, while languishing in math and science.

This is tragic, because there are, indeed, means of making math and science more hands on more of the time.  Use of manipulatives is an effective way of building extensive visual understanding in math, for example.  However, this requires that teachers become familiar with teaching techniques which incorporate manipulatives.  It can be very time consuming to conduct a manipulative based lesson, which means teachers on a rigid schedule cannot give essential time to these approaches.  Hence, the students who would have most benefited continue in their dislike and frustration.

Likewise, hands-on science is limited because of the time involved in putting together and monitoring experiments.  Costs can be an influence, as well.  Students who need more interactive instruction are left behind when lecture and test is the priority.  Hence, dislike.

~Bias

There have been efforts to improve access and success in sciences and math for girls, who in the teen years seem to lose interest in these subjects.  In recent years, the numbers of girls entering math and science fields in post secondary studies has increased, and further, testing indicates that girls’ scoring is on par with boys on college entrance exams.  Still, stereotypes can influence how a student perceives a subject, and a dislike for math or science may result.

~Relevance

One of the greatest challenges to the high school math or science teacher is to make their subject relevant to everyday life.  The explanation, when asked, “When will I need this?” is often that the subject is needed for college, or needed in order to understand the next subject.  While this may motivate the college bound student, this doesn’t work as well with a student who does not aspire to further education. 

Teens who don’t find practical use for a subject may well dislike it.  Math and science both pertain greatly to everyday life, but more in principle and reasoning than in specific skill.  For example, few people in everyday life need to solve algebraic equations.  However, most people need to be able to estimate as a part of normal household commerce.  Students often dislike irrelevant subjects.

There are numerous reasons for a teen to dislike math or science as subjects, though they may like one, and not the other.  When a parent is dealing with a teen that dislikes these studies, there is the potential for laziness, or for sincere dislike.  It’s wise to consider the learning style of the child, and the interests.  It’s also helpful to evaluate the teacher’s instructional style, and to make an effort to help the teen with any missed skills.  It’s important to remember, too, that each person will have preferences in virtually every area of life, and just as one can’t force a selection of a given favorite food or color, they can’t force a student to like math or science.