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Lessening Math Anxiety

I had no great love of math and numbers when I was a student. I didn’t feel I was good at it, and numbers confused me. Most of my students feel the same way. Today, as an Adult Basic Education instructor, I have learned not only to deal with numbers, but also that math can be fun and helpful in the real world.

Recently, my students at the Community College of Denver have been working with graphs and data sets using the EMPower books. Many of our lessons use real world examples or active participation to understand a concept – very different from the way I was taught math. This past week, we’ve also learned about finding the mean and median of data sets. To illustrate median, the entire class had to participate. Thirteen of us lined up according to height. The shortest stood at one end of the classroom, and the tallest at the other end – which just happened to be me. In pairs, one from each end of our line, we sat down until just one student was left in the middle. A perfect example of what median looks like!

We brainstormed real life examples of using median: median height of a basketball team, median grade given in classes, median age in a family. We also discussed median as it relates to the housing market in the Denver Metro area. After seeing the median price for a house sold or apartment rented in Denver on a website that tracks this information, I heard several students say, “Yeah, that’s about right!” and “I need to know more about that!”

Talking about real world connections is especially important for adult learners. If you don’t know or care how learning math will help you (beyond passing a test), how much effort will you put into the process? I tell my students that they don’t ever have to love math, but they will have to learn to tolerate and deal with it to be successful. We also discuss how knowing certain concepts about math can help inform the choices we make as consumers (a concept we’ve discussed as part of social studies) and this knowledge can help in other ways too.