Standard reporter confirms own unease with math
I described myself as a guinea pig after arriving at USC Aiken for a story and also a role in a new research project on the issue of math anxiety.
The assignment sounded pretty cool. Four USC Aiken and University of Wisconsin-Stout undergraduates are working on a research project to combat math anxiety – an issue all too familiar with many students. And me.
Last week I talked with psychology professor Dr. Keri Weed about it. As she explained the program, she mentioned they would begin formal assessments with volunteers on Monday.
I immediately asked if I could take part, as long as no X's and Y's were involved. Weed readily agreed, but I didn't find out what that meant until Monday, the first day of the project.
Formal assessments would begin with volunteers later that day, and I was the practice dummy. I then got ready to complete several exercises that would test my computation skills, and my ability to compare one set of numbers with another while retaining what I had seen on a screen.
At USCA, I was asked initially to answer how I would react as a student in a math class in terms of studying for a test, taking a test and more. In my desire to be honest, I checked “much” anxiety a lot and once with “very much” anxiety. During this process, electrodes on my right hand measured the sweat; I'm sure it was a lot.
Next, I had simple computations to complete. I got cocky, until things got a little more difficult – enough to lead to lots of anxiety. Sure enough, I knew I was sweating profusely, and I knew my left hand with the pen was shaking. That was shocking.
One of students hooked me up on the next station, examining my blood volume to see if I was using more or less energy. In that assignment, I was comparing objects in separate locations, determining if the numbers were the same or different. Then I had to quickly determine which objects were the same color or the same shape. No problems with either.
It didn't last. For my last task, I had to remember animals and other objects based on size after they were removed from the computer screen. When the number arrived at four and with new rules, I was hopelessly lost – overwhelmed with a level of anxiety that, again, startled me. Essentially, I gave up on that one.
Let's say I already knew about my battles with math, but to see it in front of me was interesting. If I have contributed to the ability of college students to get through math with less fear, then I have done my (very small) part.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.