Theses Doctoral

Mathematics in Popular Culture: An Investigation Through Videos

Salopek, Gabor

Mathematics education researchers have rarely focused on the effects of popular culture on young people’s perceptions of mathematics. Such research is needed to determine what messages students may be receiving; and furthermore, how students may be relating to these messages and if there are any differences by age, ability, ethnicity, or gender. These questions are critically important to the field – its research contributes to the better understanding of how young people are influenced by depictions of mathematics in popular culture. Research questions were explored relating to popular culture, media, and mathematics investigating whether secondary school students receive messages about mathematics from popular culture, the content of those messages, and how young people relate to those messages. An instrument was designed and developed to elicit students’ responses to videos about mathematics and other popular culture artifacts. Of particular interest was determining if perceptions of mathematics in popular culture differ by gender, race, and other demographic factors.
There appear to be common messages depicted about mathematics in popular culture; for example, “Asian students are good at math,” “math is hard,” “math is irrelevant to the real world,” “boys are smarter than girls at math,” as well as others. Overall, young people thought popular culture “only shows nerds being good at mathematics” and that “cool kids are not often shown mathematically capable.” Girls and boys showed differences of the domains “math is hard” and “math is fun.” Young people from different ethnic groups had varying perceptions of “other subjects are valued more than mathematics” and “it is cool to be smart in math,” but had similar perceptions of “math is not a skill one is born with.”
There is substantial work in this area in the humanities, but not in mathematics, and it is anticipated that researchers and practitioners alike will welcome the results of this research.


  • thumnail for Salopek_tc.columbia_0055E_10820.pdf Salopek_tc.columbia_0055E_10820.pdf application/pdf 5.67 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Thesis Advisors
Walker, Erica
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 14, 2018