By Aaron Ortega
A minimal cavalcade of reserved students trickled intermittently into Room S064 on Thursday afternoon. The projector hummed white noise over the gathering silence of students. No pins dropped, and the only break in the silence came from the occasional scribbling on the sign-in sheet at the entryway of the classroom.
“Are you afraid of the math monster?” represented the subject of the SkillShops’ presentation, math anxiety, Thursday, Oct. 11.
Math anxiety is an intense feeling of frustration and helplessness about one’s ability to do math, which can lead to feelings of severe nervousness and helplessness.
A classroom with nearly every seat occupied gave testament that many students share the same anxiety.
Dr. Shirley Walker, part-time counselor, introduced the session by administering a self-test that determined students’ level of math anxiety.
With scores ranking from potential math majors to an undoubted anxiety, the tally of students denoting each category of anxiety represented a mix of stress levels.
Kimberly Rhodes, a nursing student, sat near the front and could be seen listening intently and nodding her head in strong agreement over Walker’s various bullet points. Rhodes stood out as an eager learner, yet a self-diagnosed sufferer of math anxiety.
As students filed out after the workshop, Rhodes said, “I’m going to school to be a nurse, but I never pursued it because I was afraid of math.”
Developing a positive attitude and stopping negative self-talk remained one key focus of the lecture. Understanding how and where the math anxiety developed in students also received attention.
Walker gave various analogies throughout the lecture, and displayed an example of how natural math skills do not necessitate success. The success of investor and billionaire Mark Cuban was given as an example.
“Cuban said he wasn’t the brightest person in the world,” Walker said. “But he put out more effort than almost anybody else in the world. He maintained that if you’re going to be successful you have to put out the effort. And it’s the effort that people put into things that differentiates them from those that are more successful and those that are really successful.”
Student Morgan Kirk said she has a pathological math anxiety; however, she has not always suffered from poor math skills.
“I have a self-thing where I think I’m bad at math, even though I’ve tested into advanced classes,” Kirk said. “When I first tested into it, I was like, ‘Are you sure?’”
The inner struggle to overcome anxiety, rather than poor math skills, resonated well with participants like Kirk, who said, “The acknowledgement that it’s more negative self talk [rather] than ineptitude that causes anxiety.”
Walker also gave testimony of a similar struggle over statistics-related anxieties. She had done well in math before, but for some reason, statistics always scared her.
But a school president explained that all math breaks down to is addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and if one can do these, then anything in math is possible.
Walker said, “That helped, and I wound up having 18 hours of statistics and liked it, and I still like it.”
Math courses are a requirement for a degree in any two- or four-year degree program.
Although anxieties over this universal numeric language exist, the SkillsShop demonstrated ways that make it possible to overcome it.
Rhodes, speaking of her own anxieties that prevented her from approaching a nursing degree, said: “I just put it aside, and enrolled myself in school for my daughter to look up to. I was glad I came.”