We, as a culture, tend to lump students into broad categories to describe their relationships with mathematics, such as ‘good at math’ or ‘hates math.’ This study focuses on five students each of whom could be considered ‘good at math,’ and shows how the beliefs that make up their mathematical identities are actually significantly different. The study examined eight beliefs that affect a student's motivation to do mathematics: confidence, anxiety, enjoyment of mathematics, skill level, usefulness of mathematics, what mathematics is, what it means to be good at mathematics, and how one learns mathematics. These five students' identities, which seemed to be very similar, were so intrinsically different that they could not be readily ranked or compared on a one-dimensional scale. Each student had a unique array of beliefs. For example, the students had strikingly different ideas about the definition of mathematics and how useful it is to the world and to the individual, they had varying amounts of confidence, different aspects that cause anxiety, particular facets that they enjoy and different ways of showing enjoyment. Their commonly held beliefs also varied in specificity, conspicuousness, and importance. Recognizing that there are such differences among seemingly similar students may help teachers understand students better, and it is the first step in knowing how teachers can improve student's relationships with mathematics.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Mathematics Education



Date Submitted


Document Type





mathematics education, mathematical identity, motivational beliefs, beliefs about mathematics