Thursday, March 16, 2006

Math Anxiety and a Quiz

Two years ago I took a math class, only it was called Quantitative Reasoning. I guess the point behind the name was to fool the math phobics. By calling it Reasoning people might think it's all about logic. Even the most irrational person believes they're logical. I struggled with the class, meaning I had to actually read the textbook and do the practice exercises. It seemed as if the objective of each unit became progressively more obscure: y2- yz + z2 + 2/yz = ?

Then I made an interesting discovery. I sailed through the sections that were based on real life problems. Like:

  • If you save $420 at 6.5% interest how much will you have when you retire?
  • If Second leaves for Wisconsin at 6:00 am traveling 70 miles per hour and Fourth leaves 2 hours later traveling 80 miles per hour, who will get there first?
  • If you want to lose 3 pounds before Saturday, how many frappucinos do you need to eliminate?

I wonder if that's simply a variation of the survival instinct. Losing weight and calculating my ETA are all things I need to survive but y2 - yz doesn't figure anywhere in my daily routine.

Research suggested that students with negative attitudes about math had performance problems simply because of anxiety. Scales, like the MARS (Math Anxiety Rating Scale), were developed to measure this. But while the professionals are arguing about teaching methodologies, instructional materials, the best sequencing of math courses and ways to improve teacher training, research now concludes that peers are even more influential than parents and teachers when it comes to shaping attitudes about math. If that can apply to clothes and music, why not math?

The ATMI (Attitudes Toward Mathematics Inventory), breaks attitudes down into four categories:

  • Self-confidence - I am able to solve mathematics problems without too much difficulty
  • Value - Mathematics is important in everyday life
  • Enjoyment - I am happier in a math class than in any other class (all right, that one's a stretch)
  • Motivation - I am willling to take more than the required amount of mathematics

So when your kids bring new friends home, do a quick ATMI. If you get the four answers above, they're traveling with the right crowd. Otherwise, "I don't want you hanging out with that kid. He's not happy in math class." Or maybe "What a slacker! She only takes the required amount of math classes."

Now go ahead and take the quiz. Could You Pass 8th Grade Math? Since we only have three (well, okay, four) members who haven't made it to eighth grade yet, the group average should be pretty impressive. Dare you to post your score in the comments!


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