“Math” in the Mirror

By Diana Godines, February 27, 2017

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Summer Design Institute

Subject Area

  • Mathematics

Lesson Time

450 minutes (Five 90 minute classes)


In this lesson, students will investigate math anxiety, in general. Students will go through the design steps in order to personally overcome a fear of math or help a family member or friend. The lesson is intended to be introspective in nature and students will look within themselves to understand their feelings towards Mathematics. Students will continue to learn basic concepts of linear functions as they evaluate their feelings about mathematics in general. Students will spend a significant amount of time defining “Math Anxiety” by talking with people in the community, journaling about their own experiences, and observing. Students will then brainstorm and prototype solutions to helping themselves and others overcome Math Anxiety. The goal is to create a culture of NOT fearing mathematics at our school. Students will also increase writing abilities by expressing their feelings and the design steps through writing a short expository essay.

National Standards

  CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSF.IF.B.4 For a function that models a relationship between two quantities, interpret key features of graphs and tables in terms of the quantities, and sketch graphs showing key features given a verbal description of the relationship. CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSA.CED.A.2 Create equations in two or more variables to represent relationships between quantities; graph equations on coordinate axes with labels and scales. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.2.A Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.2.B Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience\'s knowledge of the topic. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.2.D Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.


Student will be able to help others understand their feelings about Mathematics and overcome fears. Students will be able to teach other students how to graph linear and quadratic functions using multiple representations. Students will be able to create a scatter plot based on data collected from a Likert scale instrument. Students will create open-ended interview questions and interview people in the community. Students will create mini-lessons to teach students who have math anxiety. Students will be able to write a 2-3 page expository essay explaining how to overcome math anxiety.



Composition Book for Notes Computers Pens/Pencils Markers Graph Paper Graphing Calculator Poster Paper


Expository Essay: an essay is an essay that explain something Linear Function: a mathematical function in which the variables appear only in the first degree, are multiplied by constants, and are combined only by addition and subtraction Low Resolution Prototype:: \"Prototyping is the iterative development of artifacts – digital, physical, or experiential – intended to elicit qualitative or quantitative feedback\" Math Anxiety: phenomenon that is often considered when examining students\' problems in mathematics Open Ended Questions: Questions in which there is not a right or wrong answer, allowing people to answer in a way that is not planned or controlled Quadratic Functions: a parabola whose axis of symmetry is parallel to the y-axis. Scatter Plot: a type of mathematical diagram using Cartesian coordinates to display values for two variables for a set of data. User:a person or thing that uses something; in design a user is often the client of the prototype created


DAY 1: As students enter the room, the song “Man in The Mirror” by Michael Jackson will be playing. The lyrics to the song will be on each of the students desks. (See attachments.) Teacher will begin the lesson by having students journal and answer the question, “What is Math Anxiety?” Teachers will have student’s “freestyle” write for 5-10 minutes to answer the above question. Freestyle means there is no wrong or right answer to the question. After students write they will get with a partner and share journal entries. Teacher will have a select few share out to the class. The teacher will then provide a “Learning Styles Inventory” to the to the class.After taking the learning styles inventory, students will tally scores in order to determine if they are visual, auditory or kinesthetic. Teacher will lead the discussion on differences between different types of learning and provide Learning Styles Handout. Students will end the class by coming up with 5 questions (open-ended or closed-ended) about how people feel about math and pair up with a classmate to ask before class is out. This will count as a grade and will be an exit ticket. Example questions include: “Do you like Math?” “What is your favorite thing you have learned in a Math class?” “How do you like to learn Math?” etc. Teacher will check and approve interview questions before students leave. Homework: Write a 1-page essay explaining their current feelings about Mathematics. The essay will be due in 2 class periods. (This is the beginning of the expository essay due at the end of the lesson.)   DAY 2: As a warm up, students will review the questions they created previously and as a class we will create a NEW 10 question “Math Learning Styles Inventory”. Each question will be a statement and will have a scale with “Strongly Agree” being a “10” and “Strongly Disagree” being a “1”. The teacher and class with decide as a team to create the informal instrument to give to others the following class period. The teacher will bring in 3 community members that have or have had a fear of Math at some point in their lives. (Teacher will set up.) Students will interview the panel as a class and continue to ask questions about the root of math anxiety and the feelings associated with math anxiety. Teacher will conduct interview on a video camera prior to class and students will continue to understand Math Anxiety and gather observations. The video will include examples of Elementary, Middle, High School students as well as Adults. To conclude the lesson for the day, students will focus on a “user” they want to help or brainstorm. Students will be grouped in teams of three. Based on the interviews and videos watched, students will find a common theme. For example, students may find that math anxiety began for some students during elementary school and “stuck” with them until adulthood. The students will create a composite character to design for. In the previous example, the composite character is an elementary student. Homework: Students will continue to write a 1-page essay explaining their current feelings about Mathematics. The essay will be due at the BEGINNING of Day 3. DAY 3: As a warm up activity, students will share their essays with one person. Students will peer edit their one page essays and students will use this as the basis of the final assignment, a 3 page expository assay about math anxiety. Teacher will then help student solidify who the “User” is they are going to design for when helping them overcome math anxiety. Students will get back into the groups of three they were assigned to. Teacher will explain that the goal will be to teach a lesson to their “user” who has a fear of Math. Teacher will help students develop a “How Might We?” question in order to know how to design a math lesson for the student. Students will need to fill in the following statement based on the panel and interviews conducted. User+Need+Insight = ___________+_____________+__________ Each group of 3 (designated by the teacher) will write their final “How Might We” question on poster paper. All posters will be presented and students will take a “gallery walk” to look at other scenarios. Students will fill in the blanks for the above statement. Examples of “How might we” questions: “How might we help a successful art student feel confident in Math?” “How might we help a theatre student who is afraid to come up to the board solve problems in front of their peers?” “How might we help a bright mathematics student who is afraid of standardized testing?” Homework: Students will give the informal survey (created in the previous class) to 10 friends or family members that fit the criteria of the “user”. For example, if the user is an adult, the survey will be given to 10 adults. Students should try to complete all 10 surveys before next class period. Day 4: As students come in to class they will take out their 10 surveys. Students will work for 45 minutes in their groups of 3 to graphically represent the surveys. Teacher will encourage students to represent the information in a bar graph, scatter plot, etc. Students will guide themselves in this assignment to work on team building and communication skills. Teacher will make observations of group dynamics for discussion after presentations. Students will give 3-5 minute presentations of the 30 surveys collected in groups of 3. Show video about how to correctly brainstorm. No judgment, wild ideas. The teacher will also give the survey to 10 peers and bring back an example and share AFTER the students have presented. Students will then review the design steps as the class moves to the goal of designing a lesson for their target audience. i.e. theatre students, artists who don’t like math, etc. The understanding and observation piece has taken place over the first few class periods. After analyzing the data the students can now begin brainstorming how they will create a lesson for this type of student. Students will teach a lesson from a lower grade level concept with the users needs in mind. Students will refer back to the “How Might We” statement from previous day. Students will each bring 1 pack of post-it notes for brainstorming. Students will watch a short brainstorming video on you tube and remember rules of brainstorming. (No judgments, encourage wild ideas, headline, etc.) Students will brainstorm quickly in the following categories: Why is my user nervous about math? How Can I Make Math Fun for my user? Day 5: Invite someone from a local community college to give a brief lesson on Math Anxiety and talk about seeing adults with Math Anxiety and how its important to overcome it now, as an adolescent. Students will work as a group to create a prototype. A lesson about  translating words into equations for a younger age group based on feedback from interviews and brainstorming session and give the lesson to a group of younger students to test the prototype. Students will write a 3 page essay about Math Anxiety and How to Overcome it and give it to another student at HFA. After the student reads it they will provide feedback through a short exit interview.      


The students will write a 3 page paper describing math anxiety and the design process. In order to differentiate instruction, students may be given a choice of representation. Students may choose to illustrate, dramatize, create a song, etc. to teach others how to overcome math anxiety.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students can create a drama on overcoming math anxiety and present to the school. Students can present information through poster presentations. Students can investigate other subjects and anxiety. Do students experience writing anxiety, science anxiety, etc. Students can present information in two other types of graphs. For example, if students created a bar graph, they must also present the same information in a circle graph and scatter plot.

Teacher Reflection

I believe the students will find it helpful to discuss this openly with their peers. The idea that others go through this will help them not feel alone. The expository writing assignment will help students write for the next year’s state assessment. This assignment will help them differentiate between expository and persuasive essays.

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