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


  • Jennifer L. Ruef University of Oregon
  • J. Christopher Willingham James Madison University
  • Shannon P. Sweeny Northern Arizona University


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.

Author Biographies

  • Jennifer L. Ruef, University of Oregon

    Assistant Professor

    Department of Education Studies

  • J. Christopher Willingham, James Madison University

    Assistant Professor

    Math and Statistics

  • Shannon P. Sweeny, Northern Arizona University

    Assistant Professor

    Department of Teaching and Learning






Special Issue: Re-imagining who does STEM

How to Cite

Re-envisioning "good at math:" A case study of positive transformation. (2020). International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, 11(3), 383-393.