math anxiety

just because


I love reading Laughter, the Best Medicine, a column in Reader’s Digest magazine.  I had a major chuckle because I really connected to this funny little story.


People with math anxiety actually feel pain when doing arithmetic, according to a study.  The Week asked its readers to name this condition:

  • Fibromyalgebra
  • Aritmia
  • Pi-graine
  • Percentile Dysfunction (my personal favorite)
  • Add Nauseum (what my meeting was like today)
  • Digit-itis

My whole life was filled with math anxiety.  It maybe started when I moved from one school district that was doing ‘new math’ in the 1960’s to another that favored ‘traditional curriculum’.   Or it could have been my engineering father, who didn’t really get his ethereal or ‘spacey’ oldest child .  I remember the only way I could get through those boring math facts was by drawing a face around number 10 and making a long side pony-tail to make her cuter.  And on some days I would have Miss Nine and Mr. Eight marrying and having 17 children.  Dad grew impatient  with my inability to memorize.  Simply put, my fingers really did serve me well back then.  I also wanted him to share his slide rule with me, the secrets of the slide rule were very intriguing, how did it work?  How could he get the right answer so quickly?  Yeah, I’m old, it was years before the calculator, however, my grandma who was an accountant used this cool machine to make sure she was accurate at work.

Years of sweating and being yelled at…using my eraser with such vegenance that I’d rip holes in the middle of my long division problem.

Then came the peaceful years finally in high school.  Geometry was the beautiful part of math for me….finally shapes and some sense of why I would maybe use some of these skills someday.  I could buy into the theory that some day I might have to figure out the area of a room.  I loved using rulers with precision.  I loved to label and erase the lines after I had inked a word in my science class, labeling a body system.

Oh…those days…where was Greg Tang when I needed him? If you are not familiar Greg, he writes books about math.  His leading best seller is The Grapes of Math.  Last summer at a conference I attended he said,”We make math so hard for our kids.”  Even though he is obviously brilliant, for the first time I felt that someone was speaking my language.  The website that he created for children is exciting as well as great practice.  Finally…at this late date, peace with my anxiety.

Here it is, if you want to play with numbers….thank you Greg Tang , the name the awesome  game is Kakooma.


About Nanc

lifelong teacher who is semi-retired (does this sound better?) who loves God, family and laughing... who hates social injustice... who wants to write every day... who needs to exercise every day... who blog hops... who wants to live her everyday life led by her savior, Jesus Christ!

5 responses »

  1. Those math names are really funny, oh the creative math brains! I couldn’t use my fingers to add, so I created counting points on the numbers so no one knew I was still counting up. Oh the tricks we have to do to survive the teacher’s rules. Geometry scared me because I couldn’t get it. I was better with numbers.

  2. What funny names for math anxiety! Know the feeling! The slide rule in high school chemistry was almost the death of me! I love calculators. And Kakooma…so fun! Greg Tang is a genius.

  3. I was actually a math whiz growing up, but science was so tricky! Even though I can’t totally relate, I definitely feel your frustration with being unable to understand a subject in school!
    P.S. I wish I knew how to use a slide rule, too!

  4. Your post is so witty and fun to read. I can just see your Mr. Eight and Miss Nine marrying and having 17 children. Wow…how creative. I related to you moving from a school that taught the new math to the traditional…same thing happened to me….and I too loved geometry…loved using the protractor and compass. I always tested well in math…but it was not my subject of interest. I wish I had thought of making the numbers into pretty pictures…maybe I would have had more interest. Jackie

  5. I still have math anxiety but it sounds so much better if it’s called digit-itis. I never quite understood how numbers worked together but I could memorize well so made it out of math class alive–but still not understanding it. Now I work after school with students who are just like I was, hoping to be able to show them a couple things about number sense that might help them not feel such anxiety. Thanks for the Greg Tang site. I love his books!

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