- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

LONDON Children around the world have a common view of their mathematics teachers, according to a study published this week, as "scruffy nerds" who have no style and no friends and who have wrinkles in their foreheads from "thinking so hard."
Researchers at Plymouth University's Centre for Teaching Mathematics asked more than 300 children to draw a picture of their idea of a mathematician. They were also asked to fill out a questionnaire.
The 12- and 13-year-olds from Britain, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, Romania and the United States drew pictures of bald men with glasses and beards, working at a blackboard or a computer.
Finnish children drew pictures of crazed math teachers forcing children to work problems at gunpoint.
One English pupil added a caption that read: "Mathematicians have no friends, except other mathematicians, not married or seeing anyone, usually fat, very unstylish, wrinkles in their forehead from thinking so hard, no social life whatsoever, 30 years old, a very short temper."
The researchers hope the study will help them find ways of giving mathematics a more positive image. They are concerned that children may be put off studying math if they think others will see them as "nerds."
"Overall, the image we got from young people was a very negative one towards mathematicians and their role," said professor John Berry, whose department ran the project.
"We were surprised the image was fairly common in all countries, even those such as Romania, where math teaching is very successful.
"The average picture was of a scruffy person, probably with pens in his pockets and equations written on his arms. They had holes in their clothes and were often in a room with a blackboard covered in numbers.
"Some of the Finnish children drew a very alarming picture of a mathematician with a submachine gun saying, 'If these sums are wrong, it is the end of you.' It was a disturbing image of a teacher terrorizing children.
"The image of mathematicians was nerdish. As mathematicians, we have had to consider whether the children are right in their images and whether mathematicians are really like this.
"As a mathematician myself, working in a mathematics environment, I do not recognize them at all."
Susan Picker, an American who carried out much of the research, said, "All math teachers who have seen these images at first found them amusing, but they soon realized that this is how their students see them and it is a sobering thought."


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