Saturday, October 4, 2008

Have you ever experienced math anxiety?

According to the site Platonic Realms, math anxiety is "a feeling of intense frustration or helplessness about one's ability to do math." From my experience as a math instructor, I have seen many students feeling incapable of doing mathematics, no matter what they try to overcome it (e.g. studying more hours, tutoring, interactive course materials, etc.). It is unfortunate seeing undergraduate students who cannot finish degree requirements due to their math anxieties. I often cannot believe how students allow their fears and dislikes about math hinder the pursuit of their goals and dreams.

One of the possible causes for math anxiety is unpleasant learning experiences students had during their schooling years. Another cause is the disabling belief that learning math is only for the "natutally gifted person." Math anxiety also often occurs with those students who wants to learn and do math in a quick fashion. Students lacking basic skills usually show signs of math anxiety.

I will like to ask my readers to post a comment by answering the following questions: Do you like learning and doing mathematics? Why or why not? Have you ever felt math anxiety? If you did, how you handled it? Can you pinpoint when these anxieties started? If you did not, what are the reasons for not experiencing math anxiety? Do you have any suggestions for those who experience math anxiety?


meskir said...

Personally, I never enjoyed learning math. I am taking Calculus I and I never really did too bad in math in general. The reason why I dislike math is because it's all numbers... And that's not hot!
Things got better now that I am doing calculus: it became more and more conceptual.

However, last year I had a great professor in pre cal, he explained that everything you learn in math can be applied somewhere (Even imaginary numbers!).

Gary said...

Math? Ugh! I have had math Anxiety since I can remember, first grade probably. I hated math so much I used to make up answers, one's that looked good to me.
I only made it through high school math by having my own private tutor. Then I think I only got a C. Then I went in the Army and was stationed in Hawaii, I applied to attend the University of Hawaii, however, I was turned down because of my math scores. So I started taking math courses to bring my math scores up to date. I had an instructor that, I don't know something about him and from him I finally got it. I took math all the way up to CAL and figured that was enough.
I haven't gotten away from my anxiety yet but I'm working on it. It's NOT an easy task ether. Almost like an addiction or a psychosis.

Julie said...

I have feared math as long as I can remember. The first potitive "math" experience of my life came when I took quantitative stats class in my masters program. I had the most incredible professor. Praying for a "C" I wound up with a "B+".

I don't fear it as much now but honestly, avoid it whenever possible.

Nina said...

I have been a top math student all of my life. I won math prizes in high school. I scored 800 in the SAT's, both the ability test and the Intermediate Math subject test.

My father, may he rest in peace, was a math teacher and he loved math. Besides that, however, in seventh grade I was in a private school where I started a self-paced study program in algebra and geometry. We learned ourselves from the book, did the problems, threw spitballs, and when we had a question, we stood in line for the teacher. The process gave me an ownership of the subject matter that I never had with any other subjects where a teacher stood in front of the class and delivered his or her knowledge to the students.

To this day, I am comfortable with high school algebra and geometry, but as soon as I move on to other math topics - trigonometry, calculus, Cartesian geometry, linear algebra, and so forth - they seem much stranger and harder. Those subjects were learned in traditional classroom format. I also learned them later in life.

Despite my math skills, to this day, whenever I read a new math problem in a textbook, my first reaction is as follows: *"I cannot do this. I will never get it. It is impossible for me."* I feel totally alien to the problem. It feels hopeless. Then I start breaking down the problem into component parts, and eventually, I often solve it. However, the problem on this website about "two million points" totally escaped me. I had no idea. So, although I am an A+ math student, I still need a lot of handholding sometimes.

I think math panics people because it is, simply put, a foreign language to human beings. It does not harmonize with the human experience. It is logical, left-brained, and linear in the extreme. It is totally abstract, removed from all human or natural context. It does not reach out to you; *you* have to adjust to *it*. It makes total sense to me that math strikes terror in most people. It still does to me in many ways, despite my track record. I feel the same way about computers. They are alien beings and they make me feel very, very stupid, even though I was a software developer for 23 years.

There is a certain satisfaction in solving a math problem, but as a way of life, it can be very dreary and dehumanizing.

thinkPhD said...

Let me share a story about math anxiety. I have a daughter who all through elementary school declared, "I am terrible in math!". She always seemed to struggle with just the thought of math - oddly not math itself. Somehow she believed she was not a good math student, perhaps because something a teacher might have said. Now this daughter made A/B's in math in school, even through college. She ended up as a teacher for awhile and now works in an IT department. You HAVE to know math for both of those career choices! Lately she has begun tutoring elementary students in her town...IN MATH! My point is that sometimes we develop a math anxiety problem because at some point either someone inferred we had an issue or we felt overwhelmed by some math problem. Educators and parents must address not only problems in specific subjects like math, but issues of personal confidence as LEARNERS. Math may be scary to some simply because it is a new language of numbers. We must find ways to build confidence in our students, perhaps by giving them more math problems they CAN DO before jumping to the more difficult problems they CANNOT do.

Great work on your blog - I wish you success in your path to a doctorate! If you get a chance, jump on over to my blog to read about my journey to a PhD at NCU.

Anonymous said...

Until a recent experience, I had always enjoyed math and believed that I was highly capable. Before finding and eventually entering a Ph.D. program at NCU, I intended on entering a traditional B&M program. The program of course insisted on a recent GRE or GMAT score, so I took one of the required tests, don't remember which one. Anyway, I studied for the verbal portion and only briefly looked over the math portion. Come test time, I soon realized that I had made a big mistake. As you might suspect, I passed with a high verbal score and an embarassing low math score so I didn't apply to the traditional B&M program. Since then, I have lost confidence in my math ability and represent those frustrated by the belief that math is for the other guy.

Anonymous said...

Math gives me anxiety. I never had a good teacher and as a former school teacher I only can name 2 teachers that I would have considered effective. I truly believe education programs should have stronger focus on math methods.

-M. Holmberg

Anonymous said...

I think that math anxiety is a learned behavior. It is assumed that math is inherently difficult, thus leading to students saying they are unable to learn and creating a self-fulfilling prophesy. Then others see and hear this, and assume they too are incompetent. Finally, I have seen a gender imbalance (usually among middle school students) where girls, in an attempt to impress boys by not being “too smart,” will do poorly in subjects such as math and science.

kvd said...

I have mostly enjoyed math...with the exception of story problems that sometimes are worded with incorrect English, then are contrived and confusing. I aced grad statistics, and enjoyed finding that my answers were correct when those in the textbook were not...though it took courage to turn to the professor and challenge the book. Given all that bragging (LOL) I have experienced math anxiety when taking an acocunting exam after I had been oding accounting work for several years. I pushed through it, jsut started writing anything at all on the scratch paper, working at the problem, and got trhrough the mental block.

Erwin said...

I like math. I always did. However, as a child I didn't quite understand it.
Math was presented to me as a series of meaningless algorithms to be learnt by heart. I could do them right, but I always had a disturbing feeling of not understanding why. This was particularly accute with fractions. I don't know if this is what you call math anxiety. In fact, I was never afraid of the exams or exercises.
"Mathematical awareness" came to me at some point between 11 and 12 years. All of a sudden I got the big picture and understood what had been going on in my early math education. Ever since, I have enjoyed math at every level.

Anonymous said...

Do you like learning and doing mathematics?
Yes, I enjoy doing math and find that it scratches the brain in a unique way - just like art touches the soul, certain lit stretches thinking, etc.

Have you ever felt math anxiety? Not really. During the year that I took trig in high school, I got really behind, but tutored myself for a few months and was shocked at how well I was able to use past tests to build my foundation. I learned much about the self learning process and various ways to independently learn.

If you did not, what are the reasons for not experiencing math anxiety? I think I have had a lot of success with math because it comes some what easy for me, but also because I had a great foundation and excellent teachers. I was placed in advanced math in 8th grade (when honors classes were rather a new concept) and I did horrible. Mainly because I didn't do my homework and my winging it style that instantly knew stuff didn't work as well for this upper level math.

Do you have any suggestions for those who experience math anxiety?
Review the foundational stuff and rebuild math skills one step at a time. Try to build confidence and find your strengths and weak spots. Set small goals and work in increments. Overview the different areas of math and get this general grasp of the various areas. Some folks are better in certain areas and will maybe discover less anxiety when they find their sweet areas. Also, try to get excited about math and keep it joyful - and find the right teacher or pleasant tutor because it makes all the difference!

wailana said...

I had some math anxiety. What I like about math is knowing the formulas and plugging them in. I personally like basic math. Now when it comes to fractions, I'm totally lost. I had to take statistics twice! I don't look forward to doing research statistics in graduate school and I'm already having anxiety about it.

I'm hopeful that I'll get through it.

Andri said...

I do not like math!they are borring and with no real meaning. Only one result or else you are wrong!
No creativity
No freedom of expression
No sense
Yet we use them everyday!

Richard Matias said...

Do you like learning and doing mathematics? NO.

Why or why not? I don't find it interesting, but I do understand its value and importance. Without Math, we would be leaving in dark ages.

Have you ever felt math anxiety? I don't think so.

If you did not, what are the reasons for not experiencing math anxiety? Again, I had no interest in math, other than completing the exercises to pass the course.

Do you have any suggestions for those who experience math anxiety?
YES. Get involved in other activities: sports, dancing, writing, music, fitness, dating, anything, the more the better.

Great blog.

Can you please visit my blog and post a comment. Thanks.

Raquel Sais said...

I have math anxiety since I do not really enjoy math. I like activites that involve more open thinking. Math just makes me feel like a calculator. I also have a very bad memory for math. I can't seem to remember the rules for complex problems.

What is strange is that although I don't like math, I love science. I am better at science because to me it is not really memorization, it is learning how to think. My other main subject area is English. It comes natural while math is a very rigid and forced thing.