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A New Attitude

by Chick Moorman

Patty Tamble teaches math to high school students in Sauk Rapids, MN. "I have a group of students in a low ability class who make no secret out of the fact that they hate math," she says. "They inform me continually that they can't do math."

It was obvious to Patty that her students needed a new attitude towards math. Since they had accumulated years of experience with math and had developed strong core beliefs about that subject, Patty needed a strategy to help them start over.  She  needed an activity that would help them throw away their old beliefs about math and begin again, hopefully with a new attitude.

Who knows where these kind of ideas come from? Patty did not find this one in a curriculum guide. It wasn't in her math text book, either. No Spirit Whisperer directory of 1001 great ideas presently exists. The idea came from somewhere inside the math teacher in Sauk Rapids, MN who teaches students who don't like math.

One class period Patty asked her students to take out a blank piece of paper. They did. She then asked them to write all the negative comments they could think of about math on their papers. They did.

With the first part of the assignment accomplished and her students' full attention, Patty instructed them to ball up their papers and crush them in their hands.  "Crush all those negative beliefs about math," she challenged. "Take out every math frustration you have ever had on that balled up piece of paper. Get into it. Squeeze it tight. Squeeze the irritation, the embarrassment, the fear right out of it." Once again, students followed her instructions.

"It's time now," she announced, "to throw away those old math attitudes, to begin again with a fresh attitude, with a clean slate. I want you to line up, beginning on my right, and throw your old math attitudes away. I want you to pitch them right here into the recycling bin."  Row by row, student by student, they lined up, threw away their old math attitudes, smiled, and returned to their seats.

Patty knows that building new math attitudes with these students could be a long, slow process. She knows that developing positive attitudes towards math after years of frustration, will require much dedication, persistence, and effort on her part. She's up to it. She's a Spirit Whisperer.

Patty Tamble can be reached at