Math Anxiety and What We Can Do

“Now that we know that math anxiety has a neurobiological profile like that of other anxieties,” he says, “we can use techniques such as progressive exposure and cognitive-behavioral therapy, which have worked with other anxiety-provoking stimuli and phobias, to reduce math anxiety and its negative consequences on problem-solving skills.”

Even something as simple as taking a few minutes to write out one’s worries before taking a math test can help, perhaps by getting the feelings safely on paper and freeing up working memory, according to a recent psychological study.

 - From (

What a cool idea for teachers!

Mathematics, though utterly useless for most careers and completely devoid of moral content, is an excellent example of a subject fit for humanist education. It’s hard enough that most children can’t enjoy it on their own, but it’s a source of wonder for any student who’s lucky enough to have a Frizzle-y enough teacher. The same goes, I think, for literature: we teach Chaucer in liberal-arts high schools because it’s a work of great beauty and fun. But it’s also high-hanging fruit, which means that most students can’t pluck it without help. A life with Chaucer might be no different than one without. Or it might be warped into a completely new shape. The only way to find out, of course, is to be taught Chaucer.

What if we utterly threw out the window the idea of math as useful and focused on it as wonderful?

"The general idea was that the demanding subjects, such as languages, composition and mathematics, required study and instruction, whereas other subjects could be more easily pursued outside of school. My teachers did not think I was unfamiliar with contemporary German literature because I did not have courses on it in school. They thought I could read modern books without guidance, and I did. I also pursued a lot of music and art history, modern history and literature on my own in the time free from class hours or homework. These studies were respected and encouraged by my parents and teachers. It just did not occur to them that every conceivable field of interest should be pursued as a part of the school curriculum or that a young person should not learn anything except what he was taught in school. School instruction was limited to the subjects which were considered essential and required hard work."
- Paul Oskar Kristeller

"This is the kernel of humanism: a love of learning that’s given shape by rigor. It pursues the beautiful, leaves the good to sermons in church, and never allows formal schooling to be the end of education. That’s a finer thing than any philosophical doctrine."


Interview with Maryam Mirzakhani, the brilliant Iranian mathematician who was the first woman to win the Fields Medal

  • Interviewer: What advice would you give lay persons who would
  • like to know more about mathematics—what it is,
  • what its role in our society has been and so on?
  • What should they read? How should they proceed?
  • Dr. Mirzakhani: This is a difficult question. I don’t think that everyone
  • should become a mathematician, but I do believe that
  • many students don’t give mathematics a real chance.
  • I did poorly in math for a couple of years in middle
  • school; I was just not interested in thinking about it.
  • I can see that without being excited mathematics can
  • look pointless and cold. The beauty of mathematics
  • only shows itself to more patient followers.
  • - I have put this up in my school on the quote of the week board! Now more people can appreciate this amazing woman.


"Math is the dialect of the universe"…. What does that even mean? There are things we observe in the universe and sometimes we don’t always understand them. Thats why we invented math. Math is the manual of the universe. A guide to help us understand why things happen the way they do. The universe threw countless mysteries at us and we honed those mysteries using numbers. Numbers interpret the way the universe works and translates it so that we can understand the universe. It is the “google translate” of everything. We didn’t give quantitive values to things that were qualitative. The universe did. We, however, deciphered the code that the universe had set forth and did it without every using a single word. Math is to real life as binary is to computers. It’s the encryption of how things should happen, and it follows that code down to the letter. Thats because the universe IS math. Math teaches us to learn the ways of everything. There is so much underlying wisdom in math. So much latent potential in math. 

Math is… underrated. From now on, rather than trying to memorize x and y or the quadratic equation, learn that x and y are values that are susceptible to change and that the quadratic equation represents a pattern that YOU can use to your advantage. Math is a tool more valuable than any other. Learn to use it

She knew there must be a way to tap into what students already understood and then build on it. In her classroom, she replaced “I, We, You” with a structure you might call “You, Y’all, We.” Rather than starting each lesson by introducing the main idea to be learned that day, she assigned a single “problem of the day,” designed to let students struggle toward it — first on their own (You), then in peer groups (Y’all) and finally as a whole class (We). The result was a process that replaced answer-getting with what Lampert called sense-making. By pushing students to talk about math, she invited them to share the misunderstandings most American students keep quiet until the test. In the process, she gave them an opportunity to realize, on their own, why their answers were wrong.

Inquiry-based approaches seem very good for this, and it’s something I’ll be thinking about a lot as we go into this school year.  (via allofthemath)

In fact, I’ll be doing this on the first day of class this year!