I'm Bon Crowder and the photos above are both of me - in 1989 and today. I'm a Generation X mom of Generation Z kids.

I began peer tutoring in high school in 1984. MathFour.com is the 2015 version of me helping peers be comfortable in math.

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Tag Archives: anxiety

Math and Vulnerability – A Series Inspired by Brene’ Brown

This is the first in a series on Math & Vulnerability, inspired by Brené Brown.

Based on Brene Brown's definition of vulnerability (and her work in the area), www.MathFour.com examines how doing math is vulnerable. (First in a series.)Recently I had the privilege of hearing Brené Brown speak at the Dad 2.0 Summit.

As I listened to her talk of Daring Greatly, I noticed that everything she said applied to the treatment of math.

I began to compose an article on her insights – along with the implications in math teaching and learning. But it got quite lengthy.

So this is the first in the series on math and vulnerability as inspired by her talk and her book Daring Greatly.

Here’s the series:

  • Math and Vulnerability (this one)
  • Why Math Isn’t Fun
  • Debunking the Right Answer Hoax
  • The Story You Make up about Math – And Why It’s Wrong
  • Share Your Math Stories – Talk Openly and Debunk the Cultural Default
  • Your Kids Learn Math Vulnerability from You (so Knock It off)
  • You Can’t Hotwire a Connection – in Relationships or in Math

 What is Vulnerability?

“Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”

As defined by Brené Brown (tweet this)

Well by golly, math is uncertainty. Rarely do we know what’s gonna happen with a math problem when we start. Especially a word problem.

And risk is what you take as you put pencil to paper – attempting the first steps to solving a math problem. There’s no telling if what you’re doing is right. But you gotta start with something.

When you’re asked to present your work on the board, emotional exposure  is what you experience. Even turning in your work for grading or being called on will expose you.

Doing math is vulnerable.

According to Brené Brown’s definition of vulnerability, doing math is vulnerable!

And you know – being vulnerable isn’t fun. It’s hard. It’s stressful.

Oh, and it’s worth it!

Which brings us to the next post in the series: Why Math Isn’t Fun(I’ll come back and link to it when it’s up.)

How about you?

What do you do that’s uncertain, risky and exposes you emotionally? Teach? Parent? Do math?

Share your thoughts in the comments and with your PLN on Twitter!

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9 Responses to How a Mathematician Became Math Phobic

  1. Very interesting that this would happen, especially to our fear(less?) math leader! It should be a great empathy tool to keep in the back of your mind to help to connect with students.

    • Curiously, Wil, it’s having a strange effect in the classroom. Because of the increased empathy, I’m getting super angry at the disservice we, as teachers, have done to these people all these years.

      My blood boils.

  2. Hi

    Lovely article and something that I have seen first hand. As a teacher of science and Maths I have presented at conferences solely to Maths/science teachers. All is going well when we discuss the socio ecconomic impact and pedagogy impacts of interventions, but as soon as I mention variance, ANOVA and other statistical tests to assess the validity of my claims, you can see the audience change.

    I wonder if its time for statistical literacy in schools alongside numerical literacy?

    Glen Gilchrist

    • This might be an audience issue. The other people in the room at my conference had no problem with the stats. They would even ask questions about it. So I was the fish out of water.

      For you, though, I wonder if the presentation of the stats adds value to the (intended) audience. If someone really wants to know that your claims are valid, perhaps giving them a web link to the details might be good.

      And regarding statistical literacy – a general idea of mean, median, mode and even some standard deviation stuff seems like a good idea. But I’m not sure if ANOVA is something the standard person will really need.

      Although, maybe they should… hmm…

      Thanks for stopping by, Glen!

  3. Nice article Bon. Although I teach adn blog about math, there are basic mathematical ideas that I have totally forgotten because I have not totally used it for years. Like the ANOVA which Glen mentioned. I don’t know what is it for. LOL

  4. I am not sure that statistical literacy is the only problem. The majority of people view statistics as a sociopolitical way of measuring approval. You see statistical analysis all over the media to show who agrees with whom,and many other forms of approval. On the psychological level we all desire approval. So from that logic, even the most educated of us still face fears in social settings that we are not “experts” in the topic of discussion.
    Where statistical literacy comes into play is that those who are not well versed in statistics actually brings out two fears. The need for approval, and fear of the unknown. Maybe if more people were better educated in statistics we could at least lessen one of those fears.
    ( This is just my opinion I am not an expert or an educator, but this is the way my often over-analytical mind breaks it down)

    • I like the way you think, John!

      I wonder if they were talking about stuff I didn’t know about that wan’t based in some sort of math would have the same affect. Probably.

      It also likely had to do with mental exhaustion. I was jazzed about presenting and then listed to quite a few talks.

      My cup was full.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. As a guy who has often done statistics for money (right out in public where people can see) but struggles with math beyond basic calculus, I think it’s almost an accident that math and stats are taught in the same departments or thought to be the same thing. Modern statistics doesn’t even begin till the Renaissance, really, compared to so far back in time we really don’t know for math. I really think that the statistical mind is different from the mathematical one, and that on some level either you see numbers as fuzzy, comet-like balls with possible hard centers you’re trying to attach a probability to, or as the hard edged gems that mathematicians seem to think in.

    One of my favorite stats professors once said, casually but seriously, that “1.4 is a good enough square root of 2 for small values of 2.” Made perfect sense to me.

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10 Responses to What Are Your Thoughts on This Fearful Parents Video?

  1. intended msg: You need Sylvan to save you from your own inadequacy/fear.

    perceived msg: Math is scary and impractical/hard. You can’t do it without a professional.

    my perception: I chuckled. A lot of people feel like the lady in the commercial. Unfortunately, like so many other ‘tasks’ in modern society (from cleaning house to fixing car to caring for/educating children) we rely on (i.e. pay) others who are presumably more qualified (i.e. willing) to do these everyday tasks instead of becoming more self-sufficient and knowledgable ourselves. This has created an entire economy fueled by fear (sometimes ignorance) and the sheer complexity of our lives. A simple life is more manageable.

    • So true. We “outsource” the things we think we can’t or don’t want to do because we just don’t have time or we really believe we don’t ahve the ability.

      To make a speculative leap, this display of helplessness (if you want to go that far) could rub off on the next generation. And we wonder why kiddos are so math anxious!

      We recently posted an article on how you can create an anxiety safe learning environment.

  2. Here’s what comes to mind when I watch this: what if the boy in the commercial said “Mom, could you help me read this paragraph?”. Why is it not ok to admit publicly (and even privately) that “I’m just not that good at reading”, but it’s ok to say “I’m just not that good at math”? Besides, why Mom and not Dad in this commercial (although maybe Sylvan does have another version of this, featuring a girl and her father).

    • Yelena

      Bon and I talk from time to time about how being “bad at math” is en vogue, and almost the cool thing to be. How unfortunate. It starts with the adults (including myself) setting the example.

      Thanks, Yelena.

  3. What’s the intended message?
    We sell the math help you can’t give.
    What’s the real or perceived message?
    Parents can’t help their children with maths, they need professional help.
    How does it affect your view on math as a parent?
    Well, I’m a math person. And in teaching. And a parent. I know that I can’t help my boy learn greek, so if he needs extra help there, I would refer him to his TEACHER. It makes me mad that some company would exploit a parent’s feelings of inadequacy to sell them something their child should be getting at school. I always thought schools were for teaching kids, helping them learn stuff. Did I misunderstand something here?

    • Eva

      I feel your frustration! It seems the new thing for teachers to do (and unfortunately it is due to admin, policy, and resource pressures) is to teach to the test. “Get ’em in there, show them exactly how to do what they’re going to see on the STAAR, and keep ’em movin’! Oh, and here are your 5 more students this year and no raise.”

      Learning in the way of conceptual understanding seems to have taken a back seat because of this perfect storm.

      Let’s keep the conversation going as to how we can affect a positive change. One thing we can do at home is avoiding the “I can’t do math” statements at home and coming up with POSITIVE things about math.

      Thanks much!

  4. My opinion is that Sylvan’s intent is to promote and sell a professional service they provide to those who may benefit from it. No school system I am aware of provides concentration of one subject to its students. We (adults) can only be exploited if we allow it to happen. I would consider the staff at Sylvan (or other learning centers)to be Teachers. Television commercials are notoriously silly in order to get our attention away from our daily routines and get us to listen. Math and reading are not the same. Once we have learned to read, we can always read, even if we take a 10 year break, we can pick right back up, not so with math. A parent’s (adult) math ability depends on their chosen professions or hobbies, and the complexity of math abilities required to perform their daily tasks. If there is any innuendo here, it would be that the parent is depicted as not having mastered the stage of math their child is now in, hence the anxiousness of the mother character. One stereotype: A long standing belief that boys are “better” at math than girls. Teachers believe it, parents believe it, so it just a learned behavior, more than a fact. My youngest son (age 28) is no better in math than I am. The real message is that Sylvan does this every day, and does it well. Perception is subjective so I can’t comment. I know how to wash my car, but there are others who can do it faster and better, and I can concentrate on what I do well.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Vikki. You have so many good points. For me, if they were to market their services like you said in your last line, it would be a good promotion of a good product.

      Indeed, if you can outsource something, great. Parents give love and attention to their kids through lots of ways, so having someone else help your child – in math or in French – is fine.

      Regarding reading – I don’t think you can pick reading back up after a 10 year break. Since we read all the time, the only comparison that we can make to this is reading in a different language. I know lots of people who were fluent in a second language and then stopped using it. They mostly lose it – like many people with “schoolbook math.”

      Thanks again, Vikki – love having you here!

  5. Lots of marketing promotes fear in the intended audience. Is that fear real? For some parents, definitely. Is it being exaggerated? I think that depends on the parent. Some folks really do HATE math.

    Now, should parents have the message “You are no good at math – admit it, and let us take over” pushed at them? No, but it is a message that will work on some parents.

    Some parents need to be encouraged to take a deep breath and help their kids with math, and some probably should admit they don’t get it, and seek help.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Peter.

      That’s the creepy thing, to me – that this message will work on some parents. AND that the message isn’t found offensive by all other parents.

      Makes me sad, mad and powered up.

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