Wednesday, August 28, 2013

When math makes you cry . . .

When math makes you cry . . .

In homeschooling & teaching, there isn’t much that is more difficult to deal with than a child (or parent) who breaks down in tears when the math textbooks come out. There is even an official term coined to describe the phenomenon.  “Math anxiety” is present in many people, at least to some degree. In some, to a degree that it actually interferes with their lives. Careers are rejected and chosen based on whether or not you are “good at” math.  In that respect, math and your perception of it, can chart the course of your life.

While certainly, there are those who are born with a proclivity for it – much like some possess an extra talent for baseball – we are indeed all born with a natural ability to do math.  From a very early age, human beings reason with abstract ideas, calculate and problem solve. We don’t require a special math brain to accomplish this. It naturally occurs as toddlers begin to explore the world around them – discovering how things work, often implementing the process of elimination, weighing the options and using various other mathematical skills.

Afraid of it or not, math makes the world go around. It’s important that we help our homeschool students build a strong foundation in the principles of mathematics. 

What makes a better mathematician - repetition and practice or innate ability?

How often have you heard the statements “I’m no good in math” or “I’m great in math”?  Studies have shown that there is a tendency in the United States towards the belief that natural ability is responsible for students doing well in math, while others credit practice and hard work. [1] 

Attitude is key in helping your students conquer their math fears. Often times, they have acquired these fears from parents who state that they themselves “aren’t any good at math”, other times, from poor teaching techniques, a fear of failure, a lack of practice, or avoidance. There are endless reasons as to why people begin to believe they are no good in math, or why they become no good in math.  No matter the reason, it’s important to understand that math anxiety is an emotional response.

 It can be overcome.

Many great and successful actors continue to experience stage fright long after they achieve notoriety for their talent. The difference between the actor who overcomes this and the one who does not, isn’t in the absence of fear, but in the act of stepping out onto the stage and giving a solid performance, in spite of it. 

Making a change

If you’re already on the wrong track, emotions have escalated and your child feels they “can’t do math” - don’t be discouraged. It’s not too late to turn things around.
Because we DO all have at least some mathematical abilities, because practice and hard work is the true deciding factor in one’s success in mathematics, AND since mathematics anxiety IS an emotional response  . . . . .  you CAN change the track you (or your children) are on.

Where to start

·         Change your attitude – decide that you will succeed (your child/student will succeed)
·         Discuss openly the feelings of fear and dislike, where they originated, and decide together to overcome the challenge – implement positive affirmation after validating those feelings
·         Use positive affirmation – say together “You can do this”
·         Replace negative words with positive ones – “You are good in math”
·         Back up to where you (your child) first felt lost and relearn the techniques, review
·         Go slowly – lots of practice in smaller increments (baby steps)
·         Practice daily – show your work
·         Use relaxation techniques to overcome anxiety – stretch, breathe, walk or do jumping jacks
·         Celebrate small victories – use sticker charts or family fun time to acknowledge your child’s hard work – achievements can be marked with grades or by time spent exercising math principles
·         Implement various techniques – use visuals, audio, and hands on learning styles

1.       Tobias, Shiela, Overcoming Math Anxiety. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1993), page 52

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