A Fear of Maths

I often find myself in a situation where I don’t know a particular equation and just go blank under pressure. This has now become a more accepted response when one is put on the spot as an adult with regards to working out something mathematical – although it is not the right one, and definitely not a good example to set any children who are in the midst of learning how to crack it. I always thought that it was because I was just never any good at maths. However the more I read about maths now, how you learn it, your attitude towards it, your ability to be resilient when you get things wrong, topped off with a big dollop of confidence has everything to do with the ability to understand maths.

Ieuan Pearse one of our teachers for Stuck on Homework and Stuck for Schools teacher, and Senior Maths teacher at Bristol Cathedral School said “It’s almost a cliché now to say that often people would be embarrassed to say they are illiterate but practically boast that they are innumerate. While this may be a slight exaggeration, I believe it certainly is true to say that being excellent at maths is associated with nerdiness and a mathematical idea is not something to be discussed at the dinner table. This needs to change but it doesn’t often appear to be high on the agenda. We often hear that our students need to be better educated and that the experience in the classroom is the root of the problem (the DfE flying maths teachers in from China springs to mind). I believe it’s more of a problem with the way our society views maths and how it deals with those that are good (or bad) at it. The message seems to be “it’s ok to be bad at maths”. It’s a bad message to pass on to our young people.

More than ever before, from hand-held technology to infrastructure, bus-timetables to international travel, personal finance the global economy – the skills required to make a change are often mathematical.

We need a generation of society not content to be end-users but who are competent in understanding the inner workings of all that makes society tick and although it’s hard to see on a day to day basis, that might begin in the maths classroom.”

He’s quite right, it is a social element that needs changing, a shift in all of our attitudes towards maths and the possibilities it offers, that needs to be portrayed from both parents, and those that youngsters learn from (whomever that may be). Although it may be easy to blame teaching for a lack of understanding, this cultural change in attitudes towards maths should come from many different angles – forward thinking companies that offer careers in technology, innovation, sciences, the future and so on, finance and economics, parents and piers, the media and social media, fashion, keeping ahead of the rest of the world, the government and their investment and nurturing within this area to promote the importance of maths and building on that effectively.

So how do we overcome the fear? According to Ian Lyons PhD student and Sian Beilock, associate professor in psychology at the University of Chicago who completed a brain study of how successful students overcame maths anxiety, controlling emotions of the anxiety is the key. Taking breaths and focus on what needs to be done. When you let your brain do its job it usually does. “If maths makes you anxious then your first task is to calm yourself down.”

Calming yourself down makes complete sense, and according to Steve Chinn author of The Fear of Maths – How to Overcome It, says everyone has a certain level of maths skill in them, it’s all about building on the existing knowledge and really getting to understand the basic facts of maths as a set of principles rather than a series of facts that you should memorise. He highlights how you relate maths to everyday life emphasising that it is non-threatening. And it is non-threatening, they are only numbers after all. So let’s get stuck in and celebrate them!

To get extra practise on maths try our bitesize video lessons at Stuck on Homework, Key Stage 3 is totally free! If you’re a teacher then get your school signed up to Stuck for Schools it’s a great support resource for students, parents and schools enabling students to have their own login and complete assignments online, as well as accessing maths lessons for the whole curriculum for Key Stage 3, GCSE, iGCSE and A-level. We even have Entry Levels 1, 2 and 3 and Levels 1 & 2 maths. So good luck in your journey to overcome the fear of maths and let’s get Stuck in!

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