Math anxiety

When people find out that I’m a math teacher, the most common response among adults over 30 is “I was never any good at math.”

An excellent short article in the Harvard Gazette recently explained what’s going on here. The opening anecdote sets the stage:

Sheila Tobias…gave elementary school students a sheet of paper, divided in half. On one side, they worked on a math problem; on the other, they wrote down how the problem made them feel.

“I’m finished,” one wrote. “Nobody else is. I must be wrong.”

Another wrote: “I’m not finished. Everybody else is. I must be wrong.”

That was back in the ’70s. Surely things are better now.

Or are they?

In my judgment, from two limited sets of data points—a wealthy suburb and the inner city—they’re not really better. Too many students still say they’re “not good at math,” and the anxiety level has increased, not decreased. Now most students acknowledge that they need a STEM background; many want to go into STEM fields for various reasons, good and bad. Competition for the top colleges has, of course, gotten dramatically worse. As a result, more math anxiety than ever.

I don’t have a magic wand to fix the problem.

Categories: Math, Teaching & Learning