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ARE YOU SCARED OF MATH?

MATH ANXIETY: WHY AND WHAT TO DO?

RYAN LAU

Mathematics is basically everywhere. “Math is scary.” “Math is complicated.” “Why do we need to do this?” “I was never good at math.” We hear these quite often, in or out of our classrooms. Everyone needs to do math at some point, no matter if you are 3-year-old learning numbers, or a 80-year-old grandma going to the wet market to buy some fish for her family. However, doing math has become a sort of “nightmare” in our modern-day world. Here, I’d like to discuss some of my thoughts on math anxiety.

To me, Math is a beautiful subject because it tells us how our world and our universe works. Take a stroll in the park. I bet you can find 10 out of 10 things which are governed by some mathematical equation, be it the light rays shining from the sun, a chestnut falling down a tree, or the flow of water in a lake. How about you? What do you think about Math? Do you find it beautiful because of how it forms certain patterns or interesting shapes? Mathematics is a language, and by learning this language, we can predict and understand how things work and use it in our creations. 

During our education, I reckon the beauty of this subject is often blinded from us at some point. Have a think of how you have been taught in math class, from kindergarten till high school, or even at university level. If it is just tests and exams, then the education part is not done right. The teaching style and methodologies affect students’ performance[1].Parents and teachers have a role to educate children to appreciate and make them engage in math, and of course other subjects. To kids, Math is often a bunch of numbers and symbols that don't make sense, therefore it is the adults’ responsibility to guide and help them to understand and appreciate. Math is so much more than just passing exams.

Some of the fears and anxieties in math arises from what we have been told. Schools and instutions have often framed Math as an exclusive ability for smart people[2]. It is believed that you must be intelligence to understand the subject. Under this assumption, if you do not understand math, then you are not considered intelligent. How would it feel then if you are not good at Maths but surrounded with people occupied by such mindset? Of course this triggers some kind of fear and rejection. Math is for everybody, and it is pretty much like learning a language[3]. You learn its grammar, what it means, its patterns, and how to make something out of it. Think of it as riding a bike. You may fall several times and struggle to balance, but eventually you will get it, and when you do, it can be really satisfying. I would say Math is a sense that everybody has, some just do not know it yet. Everyone can do Math with the right guidance and practice. 


There are many methods to combat math anxiety. For example, write down what you are afraid about Math[4]. Is it the Greek letters and numbers, the rigorous proofs, or the expectations and pressures laid on you? Write everything down on a piece of paper, break down the problem bit by bit and try to solve it. Also, practicing different types of breathing techniques also helps in a physiological manner[5]. Do seek out and try different methods yourself. 


There are tons of information about Math anxiety. If you want to have some further reading on Math Anxiety, you can click on the links below.
 

Guardian - ‘Maths anxiety’ causing fear and despair in children as young as six
Spotlight on math anxiety

Why do people get so anxious about math? - Orly Rubinsten - TedEd

References:

  1. Hosch, M. L. (2014). The effect of an educator's teaching style on the math anxiety of adult learners.

  2. Chestnut, Eleanor, Lei, Ryan, Leslie, Sarah-Jane, & Cimpian, Andrei. (2018). The Myth That Only Brilliant People Are Good at Math and Its Implications for Diversity. Education Sciences, 8(2), 65.

  3. Baber, R. (2011). The language of mathematics utilizing math in practice / Robert L. Baber. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.

  4. Park, Daeun, Ramirez, Gerardo, & Beilock, Sian L. (2014). The Role of Expressive Writing in Math Anxiety. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Applied, 20(2), 103-111.

  5. Peper, Erik, Lee, Shannon, Harvey, Richard, & Lin, I.-Mei. (2016). Breathing and math performance: Implications for performance and neurotherapy. NeuroRegulation, 3(4), 142-149.