Do you remember that last week I asked you to think about what kind of math learner you are? If you answered "I'm uneasy about math and the word 'algebra' sounds scary" then you may be suffering from math anxiety!

What is math anxiety?

Some people get sweaty palms and feel a sense of panic every time they're asked to try even the simplest of math calculations. Some remember their high school math days with a sense of dread and embarrassment. Some people, even though they consider themselves relatively intelligent in many ways, feel their minds 'go blank' when asked to estimate a tip in a restaurant. All of these people are suffering from math anxiety.

How does math anxiety get started?

Most people are not born with "poor math skills". And it's also simply not true that girls are naturally weaker math students than boys. Math anxiety is something that gets into our heads from the culture around us. Did you have a parent (usually a mother) who made it clear that she was just "no good" at math? Do you remember other children announcing, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, that they just couldn't "do" math? Having a poor self-image about your math ability is most often an attitude that you pick up from others.

When you attended elementary school, you may have been encouraged to learn new things by memorizing them and then giving the information back to the teacher when asked. Much of arithmetic is learned this way: you can memorize your number facts, your times tables, even the steps to complete a long division problem. But math is different! Mathematics requires you to work with abstract ideas and to understand how numbers work together. Memorization alone is not enough.

What is math anxiety?

Some people get sweaty palms and feel a sense of panic every time they're asked to try even the simplest of math calculations. Some remember their high school math days with a sense of dread and embarrassment. Some people, even though they consider themselves relatively intelligent in many ways, feel their minds 'go blank' when asked to estimate a tip in a restaurant. All of these people are suffering from math anxiety.

How does math anxiety get started?

Most people are not born with "poor math skills". And it's also simply not true that girls are naturally weaker math students than boys. Math anxiety is something that gets into our heads from the culture around us. Did you have a parent (usually a mother) who made it clear that she was just "no good" at math? Do you remember other children announcing, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, that they just couldn't "do" math? Having a poor self-image about your math ability is most often an attitude that you pick up from others.

Math anxiety can also start when you don't understand one lesson in math class, but you don't ask for (or get) any help with it. Once you miss one idea in math, keeping up with the class becomes nearly impossible. Many people have had their math anxiety start this way.

Arithmetic vs. mathematicsWhen you attended elementary school, you may have been encouraged to learn new things by memorizing them and then giving the information back to the teacher when asked. Much of arithmetic is learned this way: you can memorize your number facts, your times tables, even the steps to complete a long division problem. But math is different! Mathematics requires you to work with abstract ideas and to understand how numbers work together. Memorization alone is not enough.

Last modified: Tuesday, 26 July 2011, 5:04 PM