#dorasmathchannel: Let’s talk math anxiety

We’re so excited to share the recent work of our brilliant colleague, friend, and resident math healer, Dora Ramos (@doramedrano777).

Dora knows her numbers, y’all (she has degrees in Applied Mathematics with an emphasis in Quantum Mechanics and a minor in Science & Math Education from Cal! 🎉 💪🏽), and is passionate about creating a cultural shift in math education by integrating equitable, accessible, and culturally-relevant maker centered activities in math learning environments while also working on ways to support educators in integrating making in all subject areas.

Internally, Dora shares all sort of abolitionist math musings with our team on #dorasmathchannel and we’re finally getting a chance to share some of them with you!

So let’s get into it. ✨➕ Math healing and building positive math identities with Dora➕✨

What is math anxiety?

Math anxiety is realized when engaging with math causes a mental shut down. It can show up as panic, stress, anger, the inability to talk about math from a fear of being wrong, negative associations, or a brain freeze, among others.

Where does math anxiety come from?

Math anxiety can result from a negative experience such as anxiety over timed math tests to someone negatively commenting on your math skills. It’s fostered by outdated ideas that only recognize math in the context of speed, accuracy, memorization, and calculations. Often, math has been taught sitting silently, using algorithms, and in high stakes testing scenarios.

Negative stereotypes

Math anxiety also results from negative stereotypes around who CAN’T do math, such as Black folx, Latinx folx, and womxn, who have been historically excluded from STEM fields.

The narrow mathematician

We have a rigid and confining understanding of WHO is positioned as “a math person,” evidenced by how most of our math textbooks primarily feature white male mathematicians. There is a common narrative that math comes naturally and is a gift that some people have and some people don’t. But that is untrue! ✨We are all innately capable of doing math!✨

Outdated modes of teaching and acknowledgment

Math anxiety is fostered by outdated ideas that only recognize math in the context of speed, accuracy, memorization, and calculations. Often, it has been taught sitting silently, using algorithms, and in high stakes testing scenarios.

Math as a gatekeeper

Math classes, taught in narrow and exclusive formats that value individualism and competition OVER collaboration and co-learning with peers, are then used to limit opportunities for academic and professional advancement.

How do we heal math anxiety and build positive math identities?

Use positive affirmations.

BANISH phrases like “I can’t do math” and “I’m not a math person.” Language is powerful. Use it in a way to affirm your identity, build your confidence, self-esteem, and self-love.

Acknowledge your personal math history.

Recognize the ways in which your identity and math experiences have been shaped by stereotypes, pervasive myths, and power dynamics. We need to honor the emotions, feelings, and fears that have resulted from that in order to heal those wounds.

Rehumanize math.

Honor the ways that humans have been practicing math for centuries: from cooking, sewing, braiding hair, making music, dancing, making art, doing carpentry, and masonry. We need to decouple math from compliance and power and connect it back to healing, liberation, joy. (Reference the work of Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez)

Where do we start?

Start small. Find the wonder and joy in math.
  • Work on games, puzzles, and brainstretchers that help you think deeply (and slowly!) about math. YouCubed has many activities you can do at home.
  • Read books about math, especially with the young folx in your life. DREME Family Math has storybook guides that can support math curiosity through reading.
  • Look at art. Notice how much space the shapes, lines, or color take up on the page. Look for symmetry and proportion. Make your own art!
  • Go on nature walks and look at patterns in leaves, count the petals on a flower, name all the shapes you see. Go home and draw what you noticed!
  • Get hands-on with math! You can learn fractions by making Mathematical Pancakes or build a shelter by using Shapes in Nature (check out our web show: Learning in the Making).
  • Notice all the math already in your life at home, not just in school. PBS So Cal Family Math has many ideas to see math in everyday activities.
Do math for the fun of it.

Let’s decouple ourselves from the utility of math. “When am I ever going to use this?” is an all too common refrain. Math is a language, a way of making meaning and understanding the world. You may or may not use it for something utilitarian! And thats ok!

It’s ok to do and learn about math for joy. The same way we teach poetry or art as a way of expressing joy, because we need to build a body of knowledge to interact with the world, we can do math for joy too!!

Learn the history of math.

Seek out Black, Latinx, Indigenous mathematicians to learn about. What does math look like in other cultures? How is math rooted in other histories and stories, especially in communities of color? Reclaim your own mathematical ancestry by researching all the ways math shows up in your own culture and history. Talk to your family, especially your elders, about the ways they use math everyday.


You can catch up with Dora on Twitter and Instagram.



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