Math Anxiety

I wonder how many of us experienced some degree of math anxiety as we moved through our required  math courses and how many of us pursued another subject due to the knots and angst in our stomachs. Perhaps just the title of this blog post brought back unpleasant memories of your own mathematical encounters.

I remember struggling with and dropping out of my high school trig class and being chastised by a college professor who informed me in front of the class that “You are stupid.” Yet, I still saw math as challenging, rewarding and exciting all at the same time. This is why I chose to persevere, ignore the insults and pursue both my Bachelors and Masters in Mathematics. I felt accomplished and as if I could tackle challenging problems outside of math and be a contributing, problem-solving team member.

In Math Anxiety, Jo Boaler shares five reasons why math anxiety is still prevalent in our educational system.

  1. Math is taught as a performance subject. Students see their role in math as to get the correct answer.
  2. Communication to students centers around either having a math brain or not in spite of the fact that all students can learn math.
  3. Math is often taught as a series of procedures and calculations rather than an opportunity to be creative and collaborative.
  4. Math is not portrayed as an opportunity to struggle, to dig deeper and to generate ideas.
  5. Math seems to be the subject that has the most homework.

As I read these, I easily saw how, at times, my teaching fell into several of these areas and wished I could have a mulligan and better meet the needs of my students.

Research by Ashcraft and Krause indicates that math anxiety “severely impacts student’s ability to enjoy math, motivation to take more math or do well in math.” As math educators, we get this and we continuously battle with the age-old stigma of  “You either get math or you don’t”.  We have the opportunity, though, to change this and mold our students’ thinking to perceive math as both pleasantly frustrating and exciting as well as to believe that they can be successful at it; in other words, they can become mathematical thinkers!

Mathematical Thinker




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