Math stories: Troublesum relationships. A study of the importance of relationships on women's achievement in math at a rural community college
Providing open access to higher education, community colleges extend the promise of a college education to all who can complete the degree requirements of a particular institution. One of the more universal requirements in community colleges is the completion of at least one course in college-level math. For female students, many of whom enter college without strong backgrounds in mathematics, the college-level math requirement often represents a particularly difficult challenge.
The purpose of this study was to understand the ways in which personal, interpersonal, and cultural relationships influence achievement in math for women attending community college. By understanding these influences, community colleges can implement curricular and pedagogical changes in mathematics instruction that enhance opportunities for student success.
Participants included six female community college students at various stages of completion of their math requirements. Qualitative methods were used to explore their stories with a particular focus on how interpersonal relationships, both inside and outside the classroom, affected achievement.
A series of two interviews were employed to gather the data. Analysis consisted of coding interview texts, developing summaries of each participant's interviews, and comparing and contrasting participant responses between students with varying levels of mathematics achievement.
The study found that all participants, even those with strong math skills, experienced some level of math anxiety, and that, in most cases, their math anxiety was strong enough to affect performance. Findings also confirmed that interpersonal relationships had a strong influence on student achievement. Those who experience the highest levels of achievement spoke of positive parental figures who took time to help them with math. In contrast, students who had the lowest levels of achievement spoke of negative experiences with teachers, and told of receiving little or no support from parents or others in their lives.
Further research is indicated to help students reduce their levels of math anxiety in the community college classroom. Additionally, colleges must actively seek ways to counteract the negative experiences students bring with them to the mathematics classroom. Reducing student anxiety and promoting positive relationships with faculty and others should help to increase student achievement and success in mathematics.
0745: Higher education
0280: Mathematics education