Anxiety in Math Class – Patricia Heaton on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

So Dan Meyer called me out for only having one post so far, but he did mention me which makes me feel oh so special! Today I’ll write my first post in the “What do I think?” category, where I’ll share some of my thoughts about education in general, and some things that I’ve used to get my message across.  I’ll start with this clip which outlines some effects of anxiety in math.

So think clip is a nugget of gold if you’re looking to do some PD around how traditional math class has done at least one person terribly wrong.  I’ve used this clip, and in fact have pared down a version which you can access at the bottom of the post.

How do I use the clip:

I usually play the clip without much warning, and I give people about 30 seconds to chat.  I then start asking some pointed questions:

  • What was her initial reaction to the question?
  • Why do you think that is?
  • Could she do the math that was required to complete this problem?
  • What do you think her first mathematical thought was, and why did it happen at that instance?
  • Why did she choose to call specifically her husband?
  • How did she feel when her husband left and she thought she lost?
  • How did she feel immediately after Regis said that she didn’t lose?
  • How did she feel after it sunk in that she didn’t lose?
  • How does this parallel the emotional experience of our students in many math classrooms?

There are many more questions we can ask, and I invite you to share in the comments section so that we can improve how we use this video.

Where has the discussion gone in the past?

The bottom line is that discussion usually leads down the path of:

  • She knew the math (did it all at the end)
  • Stress caused her to shut down and not start thinking
  • She called her husband because he was French (Euros…)
  • First mathematical thought didn’t happen until about 6 minutes into the clip – fight or flight probably kicked in before that
  • When she found out she didn’t lose, she was very excited!
  • This quickly went away again and turned to… more fear.

So what does it mean?

I think that what this does is outline the fact that people want to be able to do math… Scratch that, they want to be successful, it doesn’t matter what the task is.  For some reason, at some point, they started to believe that they can’t do math.  This is usually because in many math classrooms, if you can’t do calculations QUICKLY, you’re not good at math.  So let’s make sure that we don’t create students who shut down at the sight of the number $1.50, because that worries me…a lot.  We have to have an environment where students can think critically about math, and where their opinion can be valued.

Thanks for reading!

Oh yea… and here’s the shortened 3 minute version.


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