Can a Math Museum Remedy 'Math Anxiety'?

Thursday, March 07, 2013

It may not surprise you to learn that American students dread math.  Or that that they feel that dread physically through stomachaches, headaches, fluttering heartbeats and sweaty palms.

Many Takeaway listeners have been sharing their own tales of math-induced terror: Listener Aman writes, "I have failed every single math class I have ever taken. I am humiliated by this fact and it led to years of low self-esteem, but the only thing that kept me going is the fact that I am a bright, intelligent woman who has chosen a career path that will never ever involve math in it."

Lots of people, it turns, out retain math anxiety through adulthood.   But it might surprise you to learn just how young students are when math anxiety kicks in. New research from New York University suggests students start fearing math as early as first grade.  Dr. Rose Vukovic is a professor of teaching and learning at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development where she's studying this problem.

For a little perspective on how to remedy math anxiety, The Takeaway visited the National Museum of Mathematics in Manhattan.


Dr. Rose Vukovic

Produced by:

Mythili Rao

Comments [13]

Nikita from Teaneck

Together with my disability and many humiliating experiences during my elementary and junior high, I had developed a belief that I could not understand math. The main reason that I chose Biology as my undergrad major was from this fear and apprehension. As I went through the biology program, I realized quickly that chemistry was so important in biology of future, and chemistry requires much more math than what biology majors are required to take. So, I started to immerse myself in chemistry and math. What I found out was, just like anything else in life, that one needs to spend time with the subject to become good. This realization led me to earn my Ph.D. in quantum chemistry. Now I try to covey the message in classrooms that mathematics is arguably the most important in understanding the physical world.

Mar. 08 2013 10:50 AM
Mathmojo from NY

People aren't afraid of math = they're afraid of the impostor that is "school math." Schools use math to club you over the head with and grad you on. Real math doesn't grade you. It works or it doesn't. It doesn't make moral judgments about you, only schools can do that. People haven't been introduced to real math properly - that's the problem.
If schools taught juggling and graded it, they'd make you hate juggling, too, but it wouldn't be juggling's fault. In other words, obsessive testing and judging could even ruin a wet dream.
Math loves you, man!

Mar. 07 2013 10:17 PM
Mike from Oregon

I went thru "Applied Differential Equations". Of course, as an engineer, I hardly ever used such high level math. "If you go past arithmetic, you're probably lost."

What is useful,is that learning math makes you develop rational thinking skills. That's important when advertisers and politicians try to fool you with faulty logic.

Mar. 07 2013 08:12 PM
Kimberly Moore

This "fear of math" is the whole reason I created "Arithmetic Village"! It is the most gentle, common sense, delightful way to introduce children to the four processes and number value. Please check it out and spread the word!!

Mar. 07 2013 06:40 PM
Wendy Westerlund from Bainbridge Island, WA

Both of my girls had trouble with math starting in elementary school. There were endless programs to help kids who had trouble learning to read and none to help those who had difficulty with math. One of my daughters even attended an after school class for extra help. Students who they felt could continue to improve for an upcoming assessment test were asked to continue the class, she was not because they felt she would not improve for the test. No alternatives were offered. I just heard your guest talk about how we are "hard wired" for math. What about those who are not?

Mar. 07 2013 05:02 PM
Michael Klein from Brooklyn

Math is not a hard subject to learn. Students in school find it difficult because math teaching is often rushed, teachers quickly jumping from topic to topic without giving giving students enough time to digest what they have learned. A good math or physics class is always relaxed and leisurely, allowing students enough time to absorb the subject and make it their own.

Mar. 07 2013 04:05 PM
Lulu from Manhattan

I believe the fear of math starts (in NYC) with the ELA & Math Test prep in third grade. Testing becomes more time sensitive and freaks out some kids.

Mar. 07 2013 03:53 PM
mickey from nyc

Mr Allen at HS of Montreal is da bomb!!!!
In HS, I failed miserably at math. Then I went to adult HS and had Mr Allen. He was incredible. Everyone in the class did excellent. You could see the expressions on our faces that we were amazed we got it. Even to this day a friend and I talk about him. He just made it make perfect sense. I really think it has everything to do with who is teaching.

Mar. 07 2013 03:49 PM
judy jubb from vancouver washington

mrs. walker's 3rd grade at asij in tokyo japan...story problem at the black board...can still feel my heart fluttering my face getting red and the clas starting to snicker when i could not figure out the thru 7th or 8th grade algebra with summer school help. mr. hessinflow told my parents that i just did not have the aptitude for math and i should not worry about going any further in my math education. years laters, at my 20th high school reunion to be exact, i danced with mr. hessinglow!!!!!

Mar. 07 2013 02:01 PM
Dawn from Commerce, Texas

In high school I was in advanced placement math classes including calculus. I went to college to be a civil engineer. In my second quarter at school I took calculus again and barely made a D. I changed my major to secondary eduction with an emphasis in social studies. It was the major that required no more math or sciences. I now realize that I was having panic attacks. I would really like to go back and get my engineering degree just to prove that I can do it.

Mar. 07 2013 12:56 PM

Why do you think children as young as 6 are fearing math? It is our education system. Many future elementary teachers HATE math themselves. They never learn how to use math properly, and they instill their own hate and fear to their students. No, they don't intend to. It is just how they were taught. The way public schools are, your child is better off home-schooled!

Mar. 07 2013 11:38 AM
chris from St. Clair Michigan

Find X. What the heck is X? Why should I care? Does X care about me?

Mar. 07 2013 09:46 AM
Wolf from Hoboken, NJ

I heard the promo for today's show on the radio this morning. I sincerely hope that, in addition to discussing the phenomenon of math anxiety, this show, or future shows, addresses the reality that individuals suffer from mathematical learning disabilities. While mathematical learning disabilities are not as common as reading-based disabilities, they are equally debilitating. I myself was not diagnosed with my disability until the age of seventeen, despite struggling in math classes my entire life. Educators should be encouraged to identify these disabilities early so students can be provided with the tools to overcome them.

Mar. 07 2013 09:29 AM

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