Is math making life hard? Deal with your 'math anxiety'
When the Bombay HC suggested making mathematics an optional subject in board exams, it raised an important-yet-often-ignored issue. Many students will relate to an overwhelming fear of math: they dread the class, they loathe the teacher, the mere sight of the textbook makes them cringe. Do you know there's an actual phenomenon called 'math anxiety'? And can you do something about it?
Mark H. Ashcraft defined math anxiety as "a feeling of tension, apprehension or fear that interferes with math performance". Research has proven strong relationships between math anxiety, poor performance, negative attitudes toward the subject and consequent math avoidance. Thus it's a cycle. Does a math-anxious student perform badly because of his anxiety, or because of his low math skill caused due to math avoidance?
There's much math-related pressure since the start. Firstly, it is considered a subject of higher intelligence, thus "more important". For most other subjects, students can memorize. Also, understanding previously-taught basics isn't as important as in math. Most others don't have strict right or wrong answers either. Poor performance gradually creates negative attitudes toward math, and students avoid practicing it, causing further anxiety.
Girls are likelier than boys to have math anxiety and to absorb it from teachers, affecting their lifelong earning potential. You would think sex-based stereotypes cause this, but three American universities found that the gender gap is largest in developed nations that promote gender equality.
Unlike many would say, it's NOT "all in the mind". Math-anxious students have been found to display distressing physiological reactions. The condition facilitates the release of cortisol - stress hormone - which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. A study found high math anxiety can even activate the "pain matrix" in the brain, the same area that activates in case of physical injuries.
Parents might also be contributing to their child's math anxiety (genes affect it!). Math-anxious parents might unintentionally pass it on to their kids, especially if they help them with homework. Motivate and support your children. Do not scold if they don't get it right, instead encourage them to keep trying. If needed, get mathematical help yourself to help your child.
Experts have agreed that teaching math should be done as innovatively as possible so students understand concepts. Make songs. Ideate hands-on lessons. Ensure every student has understood the concept before moving on. It is also necessary they understand the subject is not pointless so they don't ignore it; many are left wondering if algebra/trigonometry/calculus even has any use in life.
Students, the first step is to recognize your math anxiety and what factors have led to it, which helps begin the process of taking control. Don't get disheartened if you can't solve a problem; revisit it later. Time your self-tests. Clarify concepts thoroughly in your mind. The key is to practice, and practice more, and then again. Dedicate time to it daily.
Often, children aren't sure at young ages what they want to do. They might decide to leave math early, only to regret it later. Meanwhile, those who don't want to study math might be forced to take it up due to pressure. Focus should be on helping kids with math, and ensuring the curriculum is modified regularly to keep up with the best practices.
The timeline is brewing!