Math anxiety is a common problem that effects a large number of people in the world today. It is important to discuss some of the misconceptions about this problem. The first and most important myth is that people who suffer from math anxiety have poor grades. This is simply not the case. People of all intelligence and education levels have experienced some level of math anxiety. Second myth about math anxiety is people who suffer from math anxiety fail math classes in school. Even people who have math anxiety can receive a passing grade in math classes. The nervous and uncomfortable feelings people get when looking at math problems is not completely debilitating in all cases, and it can be overcome with proper guidance and awareness of the issue. The key is to prevent it by finding its root. Some doctors describe math anxiety by its symptoms rather that its root causes. There are many factors that contribute to this problem, and every person has their own experience in how it effects them. Even if we eliminate the common problems those who suffer from this epidemic share, we must still look into the individual experiences that perpetuate the symptoms.
Barriers to Understanding Math AnxietyOne important fact to consider when you are fighting math anxiety, it that most people who understand math do not fully understand why other people have a fear of mathematics. It has been an obstacle for me.
My wife suffers from math anxiety, and I am a math enthusiast. Which at times caused a conversational paradox. I would begin talking about something "really exciting" I found about math, and slowly realize after a few moments of blank stares that I completely "lost her". She like most people who suffer form math anxiety, began a seemingly natural shutting out process at the sound of anything mathematical.So to alleviate this problem I began to try and find ways to relate the areas of math I am interested into something she is good at.
She is really good at writing and enjoys books. So I took the area of mathematics that I am most interested in and tried to explain it in terms of composition. Prime numbers is something I have spent a vast majority of my time studying. While my wife understood what a prime number was she was unable to grasp why they were an important research topic for me. I explained to her that prime numbers are used heavily in encryption and security. The "really big" number used to encrypt data is basically the Title of the book,or data, and to find your way into the chapters of the book you want to read you use the table of contents. which is the prime factorization of that really big number. The prime factorization of the really big number is as unique to the really big number as the table of contents is to that specific book.
What is the root cause of Math Anxiety?While the explanation I gave her, did help her understand that one concept, it did absolutely nothing to help with her math anxiety problems. It was at that point I realized her problem with math went even deeper than having nothing to relate it to, or even her understanding of the subject as a whole. She went to high school in a small town with a very small educational budget. As a result of their limited budget, the schools were forced to assign faculty, who were not truly qualified to teach math. She had many bad experiences while attending these math classes taught by unqualified teachers. The instructors she had were set in the "there is only one way to do things" mentality. This is due to them not having the proper education themselves to realize that there are more than one of doing things, and to not penalize students who only understand the concepts being taught in their own way. The reality of mathematics is that there are many ways to do everything, and that finding these new ways has been at the heart of mathematics's evolution over the centuries.
Are Teachers to Blame for Math Anxiety?No, teachers are not the sole cause of math anxiety. Teachers who are improperly prepared to notice and help relieve math anxiety can perpetuate the problem, but it is not the fault of all teachers. There are many educators out there that are fully qualified to teach math and to help students overcome math anxiety. Unfortunately, there are not enough of them. Class sizes continually get bigger and budgets get smaller.
Are there causes other than education?Yes, other factors can contribute to math anxiety. In some cases, there can be underlying psychological problems affecting a persons ability to understand math. Brain injuries or development issues can also be factors, but this is not the focus of our discussions here. We will instead be focusing on the educational aspects of math anxiety.
How Do We Cure Math Anxiety?
There are a number of ways to fix this problem, just as there are many ways to solve all problems in mathematics. We first need to get to the root of the problem and make some changes. In the example of my wife's high school she had teachers who were not truly qualified to teach math. However in my high school we did have similar problems, only I got lucky and had the head of the math department who also taught university level mathematics. The combination of the individual attention she gave to her students and her fluency in teaching the subject made an already present drive to learn more flourish within my mind. So what this tells us is that one solution to the problem starts with the school boards and the policies that govern the criteria for being a mathematics teacher. I feel the teachers themselves should be required to have classes on logic, history and applications of number theory, and more in depth critical thinking courses. These classes can easily be blended into the core requirements for math teachers. Another problem is that the teachers who are qualified have their hands tied by what the individual state and federal standards are as to what and how they teach. Some of these restrictions should be lifted and allow the qualified educators to actually educate. Instead of guiding the students on effective memorization and regurgitation techniques.