VC instructors employ classroom strategies to ease math anxiety

Melanie Yosko

Three in 10 Americans, or 29 percent, report that they are not good at math, according to a recent survey conducted by Ogilvy PR. The survey also found that 53 percent of 18-24 years old and 25-34 years old have found themselves saying they can’t do math.

One in five Americans admit that they’ve had difficulty managing a household budget, figuring out the sale discount at a store, or calculating the waiter’s tip at a restaurant, the survey reported.

Working to decrease those math anxiety percentages, Victoria College Mathematics Associate Professor Melanie Yosko utilizes some offbeat but effective strategies to guide her students through her courses.

She has students in her entry level classes fill out a Math Motivation and Pledge sheet at the beginning of the semester. The students are asked to list any negative feelings or experiences they have regarding math. She also requests them to visualize their future and then list people available to help them successfully complete the course.

“Sometimes I hear people say they ‘don’t do math’ or that math is hard,” Yosko said. “People are appalled when someone says ‘I can barely read,’ but barely blink an eye when someone says ‘I was never good at math.’ Often, the listener just nods, giving an understanding smile.”

To erase that idea, Yosko, who also serves as VC’s Mathematics Department chair, said she has fun in the classroom and teaches in a way that demonstrates her enthusiasm for the subject.

“I am just myself; I say and do a lot of silly things and tell stupid jokes,” she said. “When I grade a quiz and someone makes a perfect score, I will put a little ink stamp on it. When it’s time to collect the quizzes, I will play the ‘Jaws’ theme song or the theme from ‘Jeopardy.’”

Her students react with laughter. She realizes that it’s hard for students to turn in a quiz, especially if they feel they didn’t do well.

“I stress to them the quiz is not an indication of their intelligence; it is an indication of their preparation,” Yosko said. “I would love for them to get everything right all the time, but we don’t live in that world.”

Her classes average about 35 students, and they are encouraged to interact with her in the classroom. After tossing out a question to the class and not receiving a response, Yosko can handle the silence, but prefers noisy involvement.

“I like it when students are interacting,” she said. “I tell them, ‘I won’t stand here and talk at you.’ If they are all talking at the same time and yelling out stuff, that’s fine; I prefer that to silence.”

Yosko, who has been with VC for more than 10 years, teaches College Algebra, Finite (Business Math) and Calculus II this semester.

She recently met a former student in a grocery store who thanked her for making him do the motivation assignment and “making me realize why I’m here.”

“I think my students know that I care enough and want them to get it,” she said. “I realize that not all of them will love math.”

VC students are also provided with workshops to cope with math anxiety, according to Diana Pagel, mathematics professor.

“We also advise students who struggle with math to take a lower-level course,” Pagel said. “In these courses, we provide tutoring and instruction, along with ample opportunities for practice, practice and more practice.”

Brian Hutcheson, VC foundational math assistant professor, added that many VC math courses have a lab component that allows more time in the classroom for guided practice, group work and study preparation.

Rachel Winkenwerder, associate math professor, said she wants her students to know more than just a math formula.

"I like my students to know why something works rather than just how it works,” Winkenwerder said.

Published: Friday, 06 March 2015

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