Monday, June 24, 2013

Solving for "X" in Math AnXiety

Research indicates a clear and growing need to talk more about numeracy- becoming more familiar and COMFORTABLE with numbers, shapes, and math jargon. Our neglect in talking math with our kids is directly linked to math anxiety (particularly among girls and women) and lower rankings in math fluency world-wide.
Look at the SPEED LIMIT sign to the right: IF you've reacted with panic, increase heart rate, avoidance... it's MATH ANXIETY!!!  Math anxiety is real, tangible and seriously effects students and adults.  For more on math anxiety, please go to: "Math Anxiety: What it is and How to Relieve Its Stress and Impact.

Math anxiety is a very real, conditioned response. Research has found that when math anxious individuals are faced with a math problem (not even having to solve it), the pain-centers of their brains activate, active working memory shuts down, and performance is effected - a built in self-fulfillment prophecy. 

Bedtime Math founder Laura Overdeck in a TEDx talk Allergic to Algebra,  explores  MATH ANXIETY and why girls grade six and above suffer significantly more than boys from math anxiety. She notes:
Women and girls by 6th grade are twice as likely to suffer from math anxiety than boys and men.  And, while you can try to 'avoid' math in college, we are essentially "Solving for X" daily  - evaluating shopping deals, balancing finances, negotiating, buying a car or house, understanding debt and how credit cards work, etc.
FACTORS effecting how we relate to math:
  • Home environment is critical to math success as is the acquisition and comfort with early math skills:
    • Moms are twice as likely to hate math than dads and if you're a girl... there goes your positive math role model;
    • Parents are more likely to believe their sons will learn math more easily (and readily) than their daughters;
    • Parents' involvement in bedtime or even fun daily math games or math fluency is significantly lower than their involvement with their kids' verbal fluency;
    • Mothers speak to boys about number concepts twice as often as they speak to girls (journal of Language and Social Psychology)
  • Preschool Literacy vs. Numeracy
    • Adults read 3 times more books about the ABC's than they do about numbers.
  • Elementary school  
    • Research shows that teachers consistently show gender prejudices
      • when girls do well, teachers assume it's because they worked hard
      • when boys do well, teachers assume its because they're naturally good at it.
    • Overdeck cites 90% of elementary school math teachers are female and many have their own anxieties about math;
    • Overdeck cites the "Mom Effect"
    • From:
      • moms are 72% more likely to say/believe they can't help their kids with math homework
      • only 40% of moms are likely to think homework help by outside sources are effective;
    • Overdeck relates examples of  Cultural statements effecting girls' perceptions of math:
      • Forever 21 this year came out with a t-shirt for girls "Allergic to Algebra"
      • There was a t-shirt "I'm too pretty to do my homework so my brother does it for me."
  • College and Adulthood: The highest paying careers based on college majors are all math and science and women are still a small minority.
For more from Laura Overdeck, here's the YouTube video TEDX discussion link:

Before the solutions - for those who know/remember Tom Lehrer or for math phobics in need of a laugh or's a video of Tom Lehrer's That's Mathematics (and a link for his New Math):

  • Play math games as a family (and not just solo online - see below for suggestions),
  • Dads AND Moms need to talk 'math' and model their skill in daily math (tipping, finding the best deal, balancing check books, etc.)
  • There are a growing number of fun math books. Here are just a few:
  • Talk math with kids on a daily basis:
    • When traveling on road trips, note the mileage signs.  Keep track of the mileage and figure out how many miles you've traveled; how many more minutes it would take going at different speeds (given perfect road conditions).
    • Count the number of steps it takes for you and for your child to cover a given block.
    • Talk and compute sports statistics.
    • Look at weekly temperatures, figure out how  much warmer (degrees and percentage) one day is over another.
    • Figure out tips (at restaurants, one way to do this it totake bill before tip and divide by five - that is 20%)
    • For research on how parents talk with kids about math please see Mind Shift's Why It's Important to Talk Math With Kids.
  • Schools and school districts need to support and encourage better math in-service training for teachers.
  • Encourge on line and free-standing math games:
    • Puzzles -word puzzles, traditional puzzles, borderless puzzles block puzzles,etc.;
    • Mazes;
    • Jenga, Rush Hour, Tanogarms, Origami are just a few fun games to play together,  
    • Set is another great game.  Math is all about creating sets, and this game is funn reinforces the concept of 'set' and is great for memory practice as well;
    Courtesy Peppa Pig found at
THE BOTTOM LINE: We as parents, and particularly mothers have to talk and play more with math and numbers with our kids.  We have to model comfort with daily math - play games with numbers, shapes and spaces daily:
  • modeling comfort with balancing checks (oh that might be an oxymoron but I think you get the gist), 
  • figuring out tips (oops, there too) , 
  • finding the best bargains (okay here comes the fun...), 
  • computing distances - talk about how far a destination is and how long it will take if you walk slow, walk fast, or drive at different speeds, 
  • take up photography - figuring out f-stops, lighting, angles, and composition,
  • play with puzzles and puzzle pieces,
  • play sorting games,
  • experiment with origami,
  • playing games like Jenga, Rush Hour, Tanograms

In short, over the summer have FUN with math, shapes and numbers.

What do you think?  How do you bring math to your family?  
Please leave your favorite math games, books, apps and stories in the comments.
And as always...thanks for your visit.


  1. I wrote about M is for math a few months ago. Math is EVERYWHERE.

    BTW, my daughter HATES that the variable is X. X is the multiplication sign! She DOES have a point.

    1. I have to say that I agree with Roger's daughter. A, B, C; sure, I get that. X on the other hand is just wrong.

      Stanford is offering a great free course on this topic over the summer. I'm really looking forward to it. (It is EDUC115N for any of you who might be interested)

  2. These are great suggestions; however, my kids have grown. :(

    I loved math in elementary school, struggled with it in high school, and now love to teach it. My son has always been a natural mathematician and now does quite well as a sales analyst. He's perfectly happy to crunch numbers and then go out and buy a BMW.

    I'm having trouble getting past your word verification. I'd be so happy if you'd dump the captcha, and I know your comments would increase.

  3. My hubby is a human calculator, so I'm constantly trying to outdo him in math problems. ;) Ironically, I'm the one that helps Princess Nagger with her math homework. Go figure. :) Also, I love the resources - I'm totally making notes because sometimes Princess Nagger does have Math Anxiety, particularly when she's facing a test in Math. :)

    Smiles and Grins with 10 Things to Smile About June Edition by way of RTT Rebel

  4. Interesting post, Meryl. Those puzzles are very nice.

    Math and algebra were my favourite subjects at highschool. My daughters however are better than I was. My eldest daughter is an engineer and works as a technical draughtswoman. My Australian daughter is a car mechanic.
    Fact is that when I was at highschool, I had to help the boys with our math exercises. So women and girls are sometimes better than their male fellow students.
    Have a great week.
    Wil, ABCW Team

  5. I wish that my experience with math had been better than what it was. It's all still a mystery to me. Too bad! Kate, ABC Team

  6. What a terrific post! I'm going to note those suggestions for my grandchildren. I was/am a complete math-phobic. I want them to be better ... far better .. than their Nana. My 9 year old granddaughter adores Math and is doing exceptionally well at school.

  7. GREAT post. I've sent the link to my son and daughter-in-law, and I'll start working with my 2-year-old granddaughter every time I babysit. It's never too young to start! Thanks for the list of books too.

  8. I used to be good at math in school ... and now I get flustered when adding on tip in a restaurant. I wonder if they still have the Math Blasters games I used to play? I could use the practice.

  9. I am going to forward to this to my sister -- we love to read, but for some reason my niece does not. Nice post. Visiting from Ruby Tuesday!!

    1. Math is an issue as well ... :-)