Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Conquering Math Phobia

Recently I was forced into a situation where I had to face my fear of public speaking. Obviously as a teacher I’ve spent a lot of time in front of (student) crowds talking. Speaking in front of a group of teenagers, or a group of teachers I work with is fine with me. Speaking in front of a room full of adults that I hardly know is terrifying to me. At random, I was asked to speak in front of my church congregation with no notice whatsoever. I have no idea what I said - I mumbled a few things and fled the podium. As soon as the session ended (15-20min later) I basically ran out of the room and broke down the second someone stopped to tell me I did ok. Rather than staying for Sunday school, I grabbed my daughter and fled the building. Once home, I broke down again (luckily in my husband’s arms this time- rather than a poor unsuspecting person).

I was so embarrassed by what happened, but it was an eye-opener for me. Just the other day I was speaking with a former student of mine. This girl was a student when I was student teaching, and we've kept in contacting over the years. In high school she struggled in math, but she always tried - and I respected that about her. While she and I were catching up, she mentioned to me that I had helped her face her fear of math. That is a fear I had no idea existed in her. Turns out, she had a bad experience in her 6th-grade math class that led to her just dreading math. She shared with me how she struggled throughout middle school and into high school with her fears. Every time she walked into math her pulse would pick up, she'd break out into a cold sweat, and do her best to pretend she was at home with her family rather than facing a worksheet of math problems. While she excelled in every one of her other classes, she constantly worried about math. The fear I feel when I am in front of a group of adults and asked to speak is real - so is the fear that many of our students have of math (math phobia).

I've been thinking about math phobia (also known as "math anxiety") on and off since our talk. Teenage students with a fear of math is scary to me. I feel like, as a whole, we tend to underestimate the importance of math in our lives. Sure we all know that to get into computer science, or engineering, an individual must have a strong understanding of mathematical concepts, but what about other areas? Fashion designers must be able to understand measurement in order to create clothes that fit human beings. Those in the medical form need to be able to plug a patient’s weight and other information into very specific formulas to determine medicine dosage. Even as a small business owner I use statistics nearly every day to track my business growth and determine what marketing ideas are a waste of time and which are lucrative. Math is important! It matters! We NEED our future leaders of America (AKA our current students) to believe in math. We NEED them to work hard to understand it and to understand the value of a strong understanding of math subjects.

How do we do this? We MAKE math count. We SHOW them that there isn’t anything to be afraid of when it comes to math. They don't have to be geniuses to excel in math - they just have to try. We provide them with tools that help them better understand what we are trying to teach them. We take the time to differentiate the material so that our basic students can understand it just as well as our advanced students. Task cards, interactive notebooks, games, and activities that INVOLVE our students (i.e., something besides lectures) is the way to go. I know I’ve said this many times in my <15 blog posts, but making math interactive for our students is key to their success. They are our future leaders and for the love of God, we NEED them to be able to do math!

Phew! Glad I was able to get those out! *Gets down from soapbox.* I took the time this week to develop a blogging schedule/outline and hope to post more regularly from now on. Check back Monday for a fun way to teach ordered pairs! Do your Algebra students struggle with figuring out which value represents the x-coordinate and which represents the y-coordinate? Mine always have, but this activity helps cement it in their brains!

Check out these old blog posts for ideas on how to conquer math phobia in the classroom:

Picture credits: 
Scared Photo from: Dreamstock Photos, Olga Vasilkova
Math photo from: courtesy of: adamr

1 comment:

  1. This post was featured on the August issue of Math Teachers at Play! I hope it sends some blog traffic your way :) You can check it out at