Math is like a lion hunting a sleeping gazelle: preservice elementary teachers’ metaphors of mathematics

Preservice elementary teachers hold a variety of beliefs about mathematics and mathematics learning, which influence their teaching. Previous research has shown that preservice elementary teachers believe that mathematics is doing arithmetic. However, it is unclear if preservice elementary teachers truly believe that mathematics is only arithmetic, or if they simply have a difficult time describing their views on mathematics. In this study, preservice elementary teachers were asked to provide metaphors for mathematics and mathematics learning in order to illuminate the preservice teachers’ beliefs about mathematics. The metaphors were analyzed to reveal twelve different categories of belief. Approximately one-fourth of the metaphors suggested negative views about mathematics and mathematics learning. Approximately 44% of the metaphors described mathematics and mathematics learning as something that one must engage in as one travels the successes and failures of it. The metaphors prove to be a powerful tool for discovering preservice teachers’ views of mathematics.