|Sisyphus (by Titian)|
Even clever kings such as Sisyphus have been driven insane by "useless efforts and unending frustration." Because of his hubris, Sisyphus was consigned by the gods to repeatedly lug a huge boulder up a steep mountain, only to have it roll back down again before ever reaching the top. Imagine then the plight of average human students who are assigned endless arrays of seemingly unsolvable math problems… If you're getting a headache just thinking about it, then you're right on track with the latest
Professor Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago, "a leading expert on math anxiety" (which could be the next best thing to being
a leading expert on math itself), has found that the anticipation of math can cause "a response in the brain similar to physical pain." Although this probably didn't happen to Einstein (except perhaps with arithmetic), it can happen to some back-row denizens of Math 101.
Beilock recommends addressing this math "phobia" as you would any other "Oh no - not that again!" type response. Rather than assigning even more math problems (as is often done, and is akin to feeding a peanut-
allergic patient more peanut butter), slowly allow the suffering student to become more comfortable with the whole numbers thing.
Who knows? When the pressure is off, she or he might just turn out to be another Einstein…
Copyright November 13, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke All Rights Reserved