As a professional mathematician, I teach people at all stages of the game, from elementary school kids at camps, to college students, to math teachers themselves. One prevalent feature at all these levels is a persistent dread, or math phobia, that lingers around unspoken and ready to haunt. Of course, this does not persist only within the confines of the classroom walls, math anxiety is everywhere! In this article, I'll briefly talk about successful strategies I've found to conquering fear of math, and inevitably overcoming math anxiety.
Drop the calculator. One of the best ways for anyone to build their math skills and conquer math phobia is by dropping the calculator. Anytime you have to do a simple calculation, such as calculating the tip you want to leave on a tab, don't go searching for your tip calculator on your iPhone. Instead, take the time to get comfortable with numbers and do the calculations and estimates yourself. At first, this will not build confidence at all, it will do the opposite. But with time, your understanding of and familiarity with numbers will progress very positively. Building a solid basis in arithmetic will help conquer anxiety in more complicated math subjects, so this is absolutely crucial for fighting the fear of math in the long run.
Don't be anxious when you make a mistake. Unlike many other areas of education, mathematics has a way of being blunt when you're wrong. Don't let this deter you. Be persistent, despite how wrong you might be or how confusing the subject is at the time. If you have a child who is having trouble overcoming math anxiety because of confidence issues like this, consider getting a tutor who is encouraging and not condescending.
Go back to basics. One of the fundamental reasons that math phobia persists in our society is because of holes in understanding. Unlike many other subject areas, mathematics learning is very much like pyramid building. One needs a very solid foundation to build upon, otherwise the entire structure tumbles. So, if you're trying to understand algebra, get a hold of your finances yourself, or just trying to survive in this math heavy world, and you know that you struggle with your times tables, go learn them again! Get the fundamentals down before getting confused with more advanced material.
Ask yourself easier questions. If you're stuck a particular mathematical problem, consider asking yourself simpler questions instead. Part of the difficulty with mathematics is that we are presented with information that seems intangible to work with, but once we ask ourselves some very simple questions, we will be able to approach this problems with confidence and fight the phobia. Repeatedly ask yourself "What is it that I want to know, and what information am I given?"
Mathematics is a difficult subject that is daunting for many, but these methods which I have used successfully on students and the public alike have proven to build math confidence and help people overcome a fear of math for good!