The Big Bad Math

Math HomeworkWhat do you like about working here?” I asked during my interview to work at KCP Tech. I was rather struck by Vishakha’s response that she liked being able to help people learn math. She thought that it was completely ridiculous that it was acceptable for a grown adult to say “I’m bad at math” in public when nobody would ever say “I’m bad at reading.

It had not really occurred to me just how absurd that sounded. For me math was simply a tool that everyone had to learn. While in school I’d be given a formula, told to memorize and practice it repeatedly for a test, with barely a mention why it worked, or what I was learning it for. For me it wasn’t hard or scary, just boring and something I had to do.

My classmates would tell me that math would be clear later. “When you take physics and calculus together in your senior year, then all the math you have been learning will start to make sense.” But I never did take physics or calculus.

So to me math continued to look like a high-level science. A formula written on a whiteboard surrounded by steaming beakers and Tesla coils. But it shouldn’t be. Being taught math and never knowing why it works can lead to lifelong math anxiety, according to new research.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Stanford researchers who studied math anxiety in second- and third-grade students. They found similarities between anxiety about math and other common phobias. Once math phobia settled in, students would likely avoid math as much as they could. The saddest part of the study is that kids with math anxiety aren’t any worse at math than other students; they just take longer to do the problems.

Classifying math anxiety as a phobia doesn’t mean we need a psychologist to help students with it. We just need to take steps to make math seem less scary. Making math approachable doesn’t just help with one lesson, but helps with students’ lifelong learning of math. Instead of math being an unknown force, students should be told why they are learning it.

At a family gathering a while back, my wife mentioned how she had to use algebra to figure out how much powdered formula and water she needed to make a bottle for the baby. Her uncle exclaimed that she should come to his high school math class and tell that to his students, so they can see why they’re learning this.

What I like about working at KCP Tech is that we are providing tools for teachers to show their students why math works. We help them show their students that math doesn’t have to be an arcane art, but something that you can use everyday, and may even be something that you enjoy doing.

One thought on “The Big Bad Math”

  1. I’m 48 years old and working on my Associate’s Degree. I’m in a remedial math class and really struggling to make sense of math. I’ll never get beyond an Associate’s Degree because earning a Bachelor’s Degree requires advanced math like Algebra, Calculus, Trigonometry, Statistics. As far as I know, the U.S. is the only country that requires an Arts major (I major in Photography) to drudge their way through Math in order to earn their degree instead of focusing on classes that pertain strictly to their major.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.