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Special Issue: Re-imagining who does STEM
Published: 31-01-2020

Re-envisioning "good at math:" A case study of positive transformation

University of Oregon

Jennifer L. Ruef

Assistant Professor

Department of Education Studies

James Madison University

J. Christopher Willingham

Assistant Professor

Math and Statistics

Northern Arizona University

Shannon P. Sweeny

Assistant Professor

Department of Teaching and Learning

Education Mathematics Mathematics Anxiety Transformation Teachers


Women account for 90% of US elementary teachers (Beilock, Gunderson, Ramirez & Levine, 2010), and many experience mathematics anxiety (Stoehr, 2017). Teachers can transmit this fear to students (Anderson et al., 2018). Mathematics teacher educators support teacher candidates in: assessing and overcoming fear of mathematics, reframing the teaching and learning of mathematics, and reframing what counts as mathematics. In its worst forms, mathematics anxiety rises to a level we refer to as math trauma--a state of debilitation when faced with doing mathematics. We have developed tools to determine:

  • How do teachers view mathematics?
  • How can we measure teachers’ relationships with mathematics?
  • How do these factors change over time?

In our case study, we report on changes for one prospective elementary teacher during two consecutive undergraduate mathematics courses. Marcy (pseudonym) began with a strong fear and dislike of mathematics, but eventually reported making peace with the subject. Many participants (N = 66) experienced similar trajectories, sharing that they needed a new relationship with mathematics to teach effectively. They were further motivated by new and positive experiences focused on collectively making sense of mathematics. Our qualitative case study (Authors, 2018; Yin, 2014; Zazkis, 2015), shares Marcy's trajectory and evidence of the factors that motivated and informed the transformation in her relationship with mathematics. Our data include participants' drawings of "math" personified.

How to Cite

Ruef, J. L., Willingham, J. C., & Sweeny, S. P. (2020). Re-envisioning "good at math:" A case study of positive transformation. International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, 11(3), 383–393. Retrieved from