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Faculty eases math anxiety with special sessions

by Cwalina

Math certainly is not known for being an easy subject to master. At Coastal Carolina University, math courses – particularly algebra, trigonometry and calculus – account for the lion’s share of dropped or failed courses.

James Solazzo, of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, made it his goal to improve not only students’ grades, but also their attitudes toward math and the relationship between students and professors. In fall 2014, he came up with the Math Initiative. The program holds what the math department calls math outreach hours, when professors go to common areas such as the HTC Center, Kimbel Library and the Math Learning Center to help students with math.

This fall, 12 faculty members are offering a total of 30 math outreach hours, in addition to their regular office hours. At these meetings, students bring their homework or sample questions. They may work on the problems together and when they have a question, a professor will go to them to help.

Of the students who attended at least one math outreach session in fall 2014 and spring 2015, approximately 70 percent earned a C or better in their math course.

“I just love math,” Solazzo said. “We, as professors, want the students to pass the math course they need. We want them to succeed. Math has been used as a filter, as most majors require some kind of math course, when it should be used as a pump. We want math to be something that’s enjoyed. Instead, we see math anxiety.”

Math anxiety is a feeling of tension, apprehension or fear that inhibits math performance. The "MARS, a Measure of Mathematics Anxiety: Psychometric Data” is a study done by Colorado State University on math anxiety. According to the study, math anxiety is increasing among college students and is becoming so prominent that students are seeking help through counseling centers.

Solazzo believes that apprehension may lie within the stereotype that math professors are not as friendly as faculty in other majors, making the students reluctant to visit their professors during office hours for help. It is common to hear students say, “It’s like my professor doesn’t want me to pass.” The Math Initiative is a way to break that stereotype. The professors go to the students in an inviting atmosphere where the students are given all the attention they need.

Relationships between students and professors seem to be improving as a result of the program. “Students are starting to feel more comfortable to talk with us, and they’ve been coming into the offices more. When I get here in the morning or when I get back from lunch, there are students working outside my office. The relationships are starting to form,” says Solazzo.

“I’m not one to raise my hand in class if I have a question because I’m scared it will slow the class down. So, the outreach hours are great for one-on-one, and I get to know Dr. Solazzo more,” said Matthew Coleman, a freshman taking Solazzo’s calculus I course.

Other students were quick to agree with Coleman. Tyler McCracken, a freshman taking math 130I, believes that the Math Initiative has improved his performance in the classroom and feels more prepared when he is given homework.

“I definitely feel more confident going into exams,” said Sydney Townsend, a freshman taking calculus II. “It’s nice because you get other professors helping you, too. Your professor might have taught something in a way that just didn’t make sense to you, but a professor at the outreach hours might have a different way of teaching it that’s more helpful."

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