Doing the math on anxiety ratios

By Eric Stevick

Herald Writer

LYNNWOOD — Jerry Beene is a 40-year-old Edmonds Community College student with a heavy Texas accent who is confronting a long-held source of anxiety: mathematics.

In starting from scratch with classes teaching basic math, Beene realized he is by no means alone.

"I’m not ashamed to say so," Beene said. "I walked into this class and I saw all these people just like me."

Beene was among a lunchtime audience of students and community members attending a recent workshop on math anxiety at the college.

As an EdCC physics instructor, Rebecca Hartzler also finds herself promoting math education and trying to dispel myths, such as "math is a white male domain" or "some people are not cognitively equipped to do math."

Math anxiety closes doors to careers people might otherwise pursue even though well-paying professions increasingly require it, Hartzler said.

"When it becomes a problem, I think, is when your anxiety with mathematics keeps you from doing something you want to do," she said.

While many people would be afraid to acknowledge illiteracy, it is quite common for people to freely volunteer that they are bad in math, she said.

"I honestly believe anyone can learn mathematics, but they may learn it differently," Hartlzer said.

Hartzler encouraged people to discover their math learning style. For instance, she discovered as a college student that she learns best from discussion with others than she does secluded with a book.

She also suggested people ask for different textbooks written by other authors if they are struggling to understand, stand outside their instructors’ doors during office hours, ask for practice tests and make good use of a learning support center.

Math students shouldn’t plan to breeze through their textbooks like a novel because they are "so dense, and everything is so important," she said.

Other steps to reducing math anxiety: overcome negative self-talk, consider math a foreign language that must be practiced, and get help the same day you don’t understand something.

You can call Herald Writer Eric Stevick at 425-339-3446

or send e-mail to stevick@heraldnet.com.

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