Finding strength in numbers

Since I could first count to 10, math has been a genuinely boring subject to me. To this day anything to do with numbers makes my eyes cross. Just thinking about math gives me anxiety.

My teeth clench at the mention of algebra.

Other physical symptoms include an increased heart rate and clammy hands. Apparently, there also are psychological symptoms associated with math aversion, such as the inability to concentrate, and feelings of helplessness, worry and disgrace (but I don’t experience those.)

Did you know that there is also such thing as arithmophobia, or numerophobia – the fear of numbers? While some people fear specific numbers such as 666 – known as the “Number of the Beast” in the Bible – or 13 – considered an unlucky number in some countries –others fear complex mathematical equations.

While I don’t like to self-diagnose, perhaps that could be my problem. Maybe I just simply fear math?

My earliest memory of learning math was writing the answer to “1 + 1” on my mini chalkboard in the first grade and flipping it over to share with the teacher. Then we’d answer 1+2, 1+3, 1+4, and so on.

While I earned decent grades in math growing up, it bored me. I remember spending hours after school playing the 1993 educational video game called “Math Blaster” on my computer; but not because I loved math. It was the only thing that made math remotely interesting at the time.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that numbers are important in daily life. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, geometry and probability and statistics actually are useful. There are thousands of jobs around the world that require some kind of mathematical knowledge.

Math is universal. We use mathematical principles when we buy groceries and pay other household bills. We also use them when we purchase a car, follow a recipe, or even decorate our homes. Most – if not all – financial decisions we make rely on math.

The state of Maine is aiming to improve STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – education statewide and expand opportunities for minorities, including women, in the STEM fields. All of these fields are crucial to growing Maine’s economy, including math.

The Maine STEM Council examined K-12 performance in math and science and found that a significant portion of Maine’s students is not meeting current standards. According to 2013-2014 test results, 37.2 percent of third-graders, 43.7 percent of eighth-graders, and 51.5 percent of 11th-graders are “less than proficient” in math.

It looks like I am not the only one who struggles.

But the results are not simply a matter of whether the students like or dislike the subject. The state has outlined several goals for how it plans to increase STEM education in Maine and the STEM workforce. That includes making sure that teachers’ knowledge is up to date in these critical fields.

The Maine STEM Collaborative formed in 2007, the year I graduated from high school. The STEM Collaborative is “a statewide partnership of education, research, business, government and nonprofit sectors that formed to help build a strong educational foundation in STEM in order to help propel the state of Maine’s future economic prosperity,” according to its website.

Unfortunately, I never got to experience STEM initiatives while in school. Perhaps it would have made a difference in the way I perceive math.

I envy the students who get to experience this new wave of education. Maybe it would have inspired me to become a math teacher, or an engineer or a scientist?

Probably not. I will never know for sure. But I do know that math really is important, and you will need to use it. Whether you like it or not.

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