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Many students say they have math anxiety. A definition that is given in the minitext Coping With Math Anxietyat
Math anxiety is a feeling of intense frustration or helplessness about one’s ability to do math.
There are many factors that can affect a person’s attitude about math and some of them are erroneous ideas or misconceptions. Many authors have addressed some math myths that are commonly accepted by the general public.
Math Myth #1: Aptitude for math is inborn.
For someone who truly thinks that their situation is hopeless because they didn’t get the “math genes,” ask them how they know. If they have never studied a foreign language, do they assume they don’t have the “foreign language gene?” A person may have a natural inclination to enjoy one subject more than another but that has little to do with an inborn ability in that subject. Mathematics skills are learned skills.
Math Myth #2: To be good at math you have to be good at calculating.
Mathematics today is a science of ideas, not an exercise in calculation. There are some people who are unusually gifted in doing lengthy calculations mentally but that is not a required skill for understanding math concepts. A calculator used properly is a tool that facilitates understanding since your train of thought does not have to be interrupted with calculations.
Math Myth #3: Math requires logic, not creativity
While math does employ logical thinking, so do many other subjects or tasks. How do you prepare a meal that includes both hot items and cold items that require various cooking and preparation times so that they all are ready at the same time? You use logical thinking to develop a plan and then carry out the plan.
Creativity and intuition also have a place in mathematics. Many mathematical theorems that were discovered and proved began with an intuition or speculation by someone.
Math Myth #4: In math, what’s important is getting the right answers.
In learning mathematics, understanding the concepts is what is most important. In situations when partial credit is given, you will earn morepoints for following a correct procedure than accidentally stumbling onto the correct answer. Technology tools can be used to perform calculations but you will have to provide the instructions (logical process) to the tool.
Math Myth #5: Men are naturally better than women at mathematical thinking.
This is a myth that keeps lingering on from societal misconceptions and pressures. Research has shown this to be false.
This is not an exhaustive list of math myths. There are others. Other resources may have an entirely different list with some overlap and with some new ones. You may also formulate your own. The key is to help students dispel these myths that may be interfering with the progress in learning math.
In a study that examined “The Relationships Among Working Memory, Math Anxiety, and Performance,” Mark Ashcraft and Elizabeth Kirk explain why. Ashcraft says “the most effective interventions for math anxiety are the cognitive-behavioral ones….The anxiety reaction is causing the problem, not some deep-seated deficiency at math. Math anxiety is learned, so it can be unlearned and overcome.”
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