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August 10, 2016


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June 1, 2016

Math Phobia

Hi. My name is Heather, and I am math-phobic. I may be self-diagnosed, but it is absolutely true. Since fifth grade, when I failed a math test on measuring angles with a protractor and had a horrible time memorizing my times tables, anything beyond simple arithmetic has made me anxious. I can do math, but I can’t do it quickly, and I always worry I’ve done it wrong. When I’m out with friends at dinner, I have someone double-check how I’ve split the bill and calculated the tip. During my last move, I must have counted my packed boxes a dozen different ways to make sure I was sending an accurate estimate. (Oddly, the one exception to my phobia is fractions—because I love to cook, I use fractions all the time and they’re a breeze.)

Earlier this year, I was asked to log on to GregTangMath.com and dig around. Play the games, see how the site worked, explain it to my colleagues, and test the site on a SMART Board.

Within minutes of playing one of the games, Kakooma, I was hooked. While one part of my brain acknowledged that I was doing math, the larger part of my brain shouted down that panic with cries of “Just one more time—this is fun!”

After several rounds (and improving my time and score!) I sat back and thought about my relationship with numbers. Is it bad because I just don’t get the language of numbers, or is the phobia because of how math was taught when I was in school? I remembered an early childhood math class I took in graduate school, compared it to this experience with Greg Tang’s approach, and nearly cried. Something about this clicked for me—I could see numbers differently, I was thinking of them and how to combine them in ways I never had before. This wasn’t easy, but it was easier.

It hit me that if math had been taught to me this way—as a set of skills and tricks and games—I wouldn’t be scared. Math would have become part of my life, rather than something I try to avoid. I’m glad that this generation of students can learn to play with numbers in ways I never did, but there’s a small part of me that’s also a little bit jealous.



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