By Nirant Kasliwal:
Yesterday I met a 7-year-old girl. We’ll call her Radha. She studies in the 2nd standard and excels in reading, comprehension as well as science. Radha’s parents and teachers were always concerned about her poor performance in math and her reluctance to do her math homework. What intrigued us was a passing comment her mom made during the interview: Radha frequently complained of stomach-aches during school, landing her in the nurse’s office almost daily. The nurse could never find a reason for Radha’s pains and after a quick check-up would send a happy Radha back to class. What the teachers and nurse missed was that Radha’s pains were getting her out of the math class; nobody at the school considered Radha might be experiencing math anxiety.
Math anxiety or fear of Math, is anxiety about one’s ability to do mathematics independent of skill. It refers to feelings of tension and fear that interfere with solving mathematical problems in everyday life and in the school setting.
How do you recognise it? Math anxiety often leads to math avoidance – avoiding the practice that Math often demands. It is related to poor math performance in math tests and negative attitudes concerning Math. Dr. Vukovic summarises it, “Math anxiety involves physiological arousal (e.g., sweaty palms, racing heart), negative thoughts (e.g., “I am just not a math person.”), escape and/or avoidance behaviours (e.g., developing pains to get out of math class), and, when the individual cannot escape the situation, poor performance”. A study has also claimed that Fear of math makes your brain hurt. This is not unique to children or teenagers as adults are equally victimised
Math anxiety is often due to poor teaching and poor experiences in math. Many of the students struggling with math anxiety have demonstrated an over reliance on procedures in the same as opposed to actually understanding it. When one tries to memorize procedures, rules and routines without much understanding, the math is quickly forgotten and panic soon sets in. There is no such thing as a brain type that makes one person better than another at math. Please don’t accept any stereotypes about the subject. Be patient as it is time consuming, just the way learning to drive is. Some people may get it more quickly, but this does not mean you can’t get it.
You can always have fun with the subject by becoming aware of the fear and try to connect with the numbers instead of running away from them. And then sharing experiences and doing a lot of mental math on the go help in several ways. Mathematics after all, is no rocket science!