Math: Facing an American Phobia


Challenging negative attitudes and delivering a positive message about what math can and should mean to all of us, this resource is both an entertaining and invaluable read. From "Talking Turkey About Arithmetic " to "Making Math Make Sense," the 13 chapters help everyone conquer their fear of math.

Marilyn Burns
176 Pages

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Reviewed by Judy Spicer, Mathematics Abstractor. Reprinted with permission from ENC Focus: A Magazine for Classroom Innovators, 9 (3), 69 (2002).

Math has gotten a bad reputation with the American public, and this book for parents and teachers provides possible reasons why this is so. The book also discusses what math can and should mean to people and explains how adults can avoid passing their math phobias on to their children.

Author Marilyn Burns traces the underlying conflict between the public’s assumption that mathematics means arithmetic and the belief of math educators that the mathematics taught in schools must foster reasoning, thinking, and problem-solving skills. The book begins by outlining the mathematics involved in preparing a holiday dinner: determining the size of the turkey, the amount of stuffing required, and the cooking time. Burns then compares this practical mathematics to what is taught in schools, explaining that there is a divide between the classroom emphasis on paper-and-pencil activities and the real-world application of mathematics. As an example, a chapter on pizza problems explores the meaning of doubling an object size, the relationship between diameter and area, and processes of mathematical thinking and investigation. Other topics discussed are the value of timed math tests, the use of expanded student answers in student-teacher communication, and the appropriate use of the calculator. The final chapters contain practical suggestions to help children avoid math phobias. Burns recommends actively engaging children in mathematics outside the classroom and supporting and encouraging children throughout their math education. An answer key contains the solution to the seven problems found in the book. Detailed explanations and illustrations of the reasoning behind the solutions are designed to help readers think mathematically.

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