What is Math Anxiety?

Math anxiety or fear of math is actually quite common. Math anxiety is quite similar to stagefright. Why does someone suffer stagefright? Fear of something going wrong in front of a crowd? Fear of forgetting the lines? Fear of being judged poorly? Fear of going completely blank? Math anxiety conjures up fear of some type. The fear that one won’t be able to do the math or the fear that it’s too hard or the fear of failure which often stems from having a lack of confidence.

For the most part, math anxiety is the fear about doing the math right, our minds draw a blank and we think we’ll fail and of course the more frustrated and anxious our minds become, the greater the chance for drawing blanks. Added pressure of having time limits on math tests and exams also cause the levels of anxiety grow for many students. Where Does Math Anxiety Come From? Usually math anxiety stems from unpleasant experiences in mathematics.

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Typically math phobics have had math presented in such a fashion that it led to limited understanding. Unfortunately, math anxiety is often due to poor teaching and poor experiences in math which typically leads to math anxiety. Many of the students I’ve encountered with math anxiety have demonstrated an over reliance on procedures in math as opposed to actually understanding the math. When one tries to memorize procedures, rules and routines without much understanding, the math is quickly forgotten and panic soons sets in.

Think about your experiences with one concept – the division of fractions. You probably learned about reciprocals and inverses. In other words, ‘It’s not yours to reason why, just invert and multiply’. Well, you memorized the rule and it works. Why does it work? Do you really understand why it works? Did anyone every use pizzas or math manipulatives to show you why it works? If not, you simply memorized the procedure and that was that.

Think of math as memorizing all the procedures – what if you forget a few? Therefore, with this type of strategy, a good memory will help, but, what if you dont’ have a good memory. Understanding the math is critical. Once students realize they can do the math, the whole notion of math anxiety can be overcome. Teachers and parents have an important role to ensure students understand the math being presented to them.

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