Overcoming Math Anxiety – The Math Autobiography

March 16, 2010 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

As a math instructor I cannot tell you how many students I have seen in my office, talked to in the quad, helped in our Math Center, or even run into at the grocery store, who tell me of their difficulties in math. When I ask them to recall when things began to go poorly for them in math it takes a mere fraction of a second for many to trace their difficulties to a single traumatic event or “that” teacher. Students carrying that sort of baggage have their chances for current success severely damaged.

I am not a counselor, but I do believe that the first step to overcoming math anxiety is to acknowledge past difficulties and issues. Students need to make an inventory of past successes and failures, as well as the reasons for these successes and failures. Students need to think about how their friends, relatives, and parents have impacted their mathematical self-image.


One effective tool for investigating our math history is the following assignment – The Mathematical Autobiography.

As a homework assignment, ask students to prepare a brief “Math Autobiography”. This should include items such as

  • Classes taken
  • Positive experiences
  • Negative experiences
  • Overall attitude about math
  • Strengths and weaknesses

Just getting these ideas on paper helps students to realize their situation, and gives you a quick snapshot into the mathematical background/baggage of your students.

Commonalities can be discussed in class, showing students that they are not the “only one”.

After I collect these assignments, I like for my students to reread them a few weeks later, and ask for comments on how things have changed for them.

Web 2.0 Spin

Although a public forum such as Twitter or Facebook might discourage students from sharing their true feelings, this assignment seems to be ideal for a blog. Your students can retain a degree of anonymity and truly face their anxiety head on.

If you have any experience with Math Autobiographies I’d like to encourage you to share by leaving a comment, or reaching me through the contact page at my web site – georgewoodbury.com.


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Tuesday I post an article related to Math Study Skills on my blog. If there’s a particular study skill you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.


Entry filed under: Math, study skills. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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