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Oink, oink. It’s baaaaack!

The H1N1 flu virus — commonly known as the “Swine Flu” — put a scare into U.S. public health and medical professionals starting in the spring of 2009. Public health specialists, fearing the potential for one of the worst flu outbreaks in memory, had raced against the clock that year to develop a vaccine for that form of the flu so that it could be ready for the fall. The general flu vaccines that had been prepared did not include H1N1 because it was not predicted to be a widespread threat until after those vaccines were produced.

And while there was a pandemic, it was not as widespread or as virulent as many had feared.

Fast forward 4 years. After a brief “hiatus,” H1N1 has returned. And this time it has gone “mainstream,” generating relatively little media attention compared with 2009. Yet, it has been the dominant strain during this flu season. When people talk about the flu this season, they are almost certainly talking about H1N1. The reduced media visibility may be due, in part, to the fact that this year’s general flu vaccines offer some protection against the Swine Flu. Thus, there is no panic within the public health community.

The 'Swine Flu' -- which made headlines when it caught public health officials by surprise when it surfaced in 2009 -- is back. The H1N1 virus is the dominant strain of flu this season, but public health officials are ready this time with vaccines that include some protection against the bug.
The ‘Swine Flu’ — which made headlines when it caught public health officials by surprise when it surfaced in 2009 — is back. The H1N1 virus is the dominant strain of flu this season, but public health officials are ready this time with vaccines that include some protection against the bug.

The symptoms are largely the same as the other, garden-variety versions of the flu of years past. It usually involves a sore throat, cough, fever, chills and fatigue that can be extreme. Vomiting and nausea are sometimes associated with it.

But what distinguishes the Swine Flu from other flu bugs is the target audience. While the very young and the elderly are generally more vulnerable to the flu, the Swine Flu seems to target teens and young adults more heavily than older people. Experts believe this may be because many individuals born before 1950 were exposed to Swine Flu-like viruses early in their lives, and therefore have developed some immunity to the H1N1 strain.

This dog knows what to do in case of flu.
This dog knows what to do in case of flu.

So, how can you avoid catching the Swine Flu? Although there are no guarantees, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances, according to Dr. Diane Morgenthaler, director of Southern’s health and wellness center.

She strongly recommends consulting with your doctor about getting a flu vaccine. While there are some people who should not get it for health reasons, most individuals probably should, Morgenthaler says. College students often have the option of checking with their campus health services.

“It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect,” she says. “But we haven’t reached the peak of flu season yet, so there is still time.”

Morgenthaler’s suggestions also include:

  • Consistently use good hand washing techniques and make frequent use of hand sanitizers, especially after touching common areas, such as door knobs, light switches and remote controls.
  • Consider a fist bump, instead of a handshake. If you do shake hands – and especially if the other person shows signs of being sick – wash your hands thoroughly. Or, at least, use a hand sanitizer.
  • Eat well and get plenty of sleep. You want to keep your immune system sharp in case you are exposed to the virus.
  • Avoid crowded places when possible.

And what if you suspect you might already have caught the flu?

“Antiviral medication may be helpful, especially in the first 48 hours,” Morgenthaler says.

“Most people are better within 1 to 2 weeks using over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, cough drops, antihistamines, salt water gargles and by drinking lots of fluids. But don’t spread the virus around. If you are sick, stay home if at all possible. Most bosses, professors and teachers will understand.”

Stay well!

Happy New Year, everyone!

It’s hard to believe a year has passed since we launched Wise Words. Throughout the year, we explored a wide variety of topics that we hope have proven to be both interesting and informative. During that time, the blog has received more than 6,000 views. Thank you for your stopping by!

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

We look forward to continue sharing insightful posts with you in the coming year. Whether you’re a student, a parent or a member of the general public, we invite you to check us out in 2014. We strive to make the blog an even better resource for the community.

Our Jan. 4, 2013 post (our very first) talked about keeping New Year’s resolutions. If you never read it, or even if you have, we thought it might be worth checking out.

We wish all of our readers a happy, healthy and productive new year!

If you’re a college student, chances are you’re busy this week studying for final exams. In fact, some of you may have taken at least one exam already.

And high school students, your first-semester (or second-marking period) is probably about to close after the first of the year. And you know what that means. It won’t be long after the holidays that the Exam Grinch comes knocking at your classroom door.

High school and college students are preparing for their semester exams.
High school and college students are preparing for their semester exams.

Denise Zack, a counselor in Southern’s University Counseling Office, has plenty of good advice about how to keep your stress levels to a minimum during this time of year.

There is no way, of course, to avoid some anxiety of exams. And frankly, a little bit of stress can actually enhance your success on the exams. But high school and college students run the risk of “stress overload,” which can detract from your optimal performance.

For some suggestions on how to cope with pre-exam stress, check out our May 21 post.

Good luck on your exams!

For more than a decade, colleges and the business world have been trying to adjust to the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial Generation – those who were born from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s.

The differences among the generations often create misunderstandings.

For example, that sense of independence – if you want to do it right, do it yourself approach — brought to the workplace by Generation X (born from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s) was clashing with the collegial ethos of the Millennials. And unlike the Baby Boomers (born 1946 to the early 1960s), who put a lot of value in working long hours at the office, Millennials place a higher premium on getting the job done efficiently.

Keynote speaker Kim Lear talks about generational differences during a recent forum at Southern.
Keynote speaker Kim Lear talks about generational differences during a recent forum at Southern.

For Boomers and Xers, the unwritten rules at work said that as you climbed the hierarchical ladder, you would be involved in discussions of higher importance. That workplace culture is almost anathema to Millennials, who want to be part of those discussions from their earliest days at an organization. They prefer a collegial, more horizontal organizational.

The differences among the generations are often stark. But just as some organizations have learned to adjust to the Millennials’ expectations and create a more peaceful co-existence among the generations, a new generation with its own trends and traits is beginning to emerge.

Generation Edge – those who were born since the mid-1990s – is about to enter colleges starting next year. And some have already joined the workforce.

Will they be like the Millennial Generation – tech savvy, team-oriented, optimistic and with high expectations? While they are likely to be even more technologically advanced, the early indications are that they are quite different in many respects.

Cheshire High School students -- members of Generation Edge -- share a moment with Kim Lear (standing, fourth from left).
Cheshire High School students — members of Generation Edge — share a moment with Kim Lear (standing, fourth from left).

That subject was among those discussed recently at Southern during a forum, “Ready or Not, Connecticut, the Millennial Generation is Here!…And the GenEdgers Aren’t Far Behind.” The forum looked at the characteristics of the various generations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Kim Lear, an expert on generational trends and changes for a Minnesota-based company called BridgeWorks, gave the audience a glimpse into what the early research says about Generation Edge, sometimes referred to as Generation Z or NetGen.

She pointed to three budding trends:

*The brains of today’s youth may actually be changing, probably as a result of their technological immersion. Lear said that while people often refer to “multitasking” as a skill, it is not something the human brain can actually do. She notes that the actual skill should be called “switch tasking,” which is based on how much or little effectiveness you lose in between tasks, such as doing your homework while reading your text messages and watching part of a television show. “There are Harvard studies so far showing that GenEdgers are losing significantly less (effectiveness) than the rest of us do,” Lear said. “This is a function of their brain that other brains may not actually have.”

*GenEdgers may be able to create authentic, meaningful relationships with people via Skype and other technological devices in which people can see each other, even though they may be physically a long distance away from each other. “When the virtual world was becoming really big, there were a lot of studies to see if human beings can create relationships through a screen,” Lear said. “The conclusion was basically ‘no.’ But there is a study being done right now on young children and their relationships with their grandparents. There are some kids who are spending a lot of time on FaceTime and Skype and who only see each other once or twice a year. There are some theorists who are projecting that this may be the first generation that can build real connections with people through a screen. That obviously would completely change the workplace and even the marketplace over the next 15 or 20 years.”

*While Millennials are known for having a collaborative spirit, GenEdgers have a much more competitive spirit. This may be due to a change in parenting styles. Baby Boomers are largely the parents of Millennials, while GenXers are usually the parents of GenEdgers. Lear pointed out that GenXers are known for their straightforward, no sugar-coating style of communication. “We are actually seeing that their direct style of communication is exactly how they are speaking to their kids,” Lear said. “And when we are talking with 12-year-olds, their knowledge of the recession is unbelievable. Their parents are telling them money doesn’t grow on trees. Student loans exist. And these kids know that they’re not just competing for jobs with the people sitting next to them. They’re competing for jobs with kids in China who can do with that they can do, maybe better, and for less. That is going to have a huge impact on the way that people work and what they are motivated by in the future.”

The following is a chart of the 20th and 21st century generations, the corresponding birth years and the characteristics/milestones of each: http://www.southernct.edu/millennialforum-gen.html

The Millennials may be the most studied generation in American history.

Their size – which exceeds that of Generation X and rivals that of the Baby Boom Generation – coupled with their distinctive characteristics are fodder for a sociological analyst’s dream. Why do they appear to be so different from previous generations in the classroom, at work and in society, in general? Indeed, cultural shockwaves have been felt in the workplace since the Millennials’ entrance a decade ago.

To be sure, some of the same things have been said of every succeeding generation. After all, all one needs to do is look at the images of the late 1960s and early 1970s – the coming of age era for so many Baby Boomers – to feel the cultural stir that permeated society.

But many experts say that the changes within the Millennial Generation are deeper and more ingrained than those from previous generations. Some say that members of this generation approach their careers in a different way than in the past. For example, paying your dues at an organization for a significant amount of time — a path doggedly taken by most Baby Boomers and their parents — is no longer viewed in the same light. Millennials tend to want to make a significant, sometimes dramatic impact, right away.

Similarly, this generation sees the world in more horizontal terms than in hierarchical terms. Ironically, Millennials appear to be less confrontational toward authority figures than their parents were at their age…perhaps because of their closer relationship with their own parents than Baby Boomers had. But that relationship also has been controversial as educators frequently bemoan a less independent student body. This style of “helicopter parenting” owes some of its genesis to the technological boom with the creation of cell phones, iPhones and other new communication vehicles.

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Interestingly, phone conversations for college students have decreased over the years, according to Ro Conforti, associate professor of media studies at Southern. She tells the story of how one of her students used to complain…not that her mother called her frequently on the phone…but that her mother did not know how to text her.

Texting is considered the communication vehicle of choice. It’s faster and less intrusive than calling someone, or even emailing. And while Conforti says the new technology, including social media, allows friends and family members to stay in touch more easily, she adds that it comes with a price tag.

“I see many young people having a lot of trouble articulating their feelings or thoughts,” Conforti says. “Texting and tweeting don’t allow a person to express themselves fully. And it goes even further in some cases. Growing up, I remember looking forward to when the phone rang. We’re finding that many younger adults today actually perceive phone calls as an interruption in their lives.”

The use of high tech communication devices is bound to continue among those in the post-Millennial Generation, those born around 1996 and later and sometimes referred to as Generation Edge or Generation Z. But the early trends are beginning to show some behavioral changes, according to some experts. The prevalence of “helicopter parenting” may be waning as the children of Generation X are growing up. While a single breadwinner was common place during the childhoods of Baby Boomers, the “latch key kids” era was a trend among GenXers. In other words, they grew up in a family environment that required them to learn self-reliance at an earlier age with both parents working. It’s not surprising, then, if the kids of GenXers are being raised to be more independent.

But since the oldest GenEdgers are just now approaching college-age, the jury is still out in terms of how they will differ from Millennials, as well as previous generations.

The trends among Millennials and GenEdgers will be discussed in depth during a Nov. 18 forum at Southern called, “Ready or Not, Connecticut, the Millennial Generation is Here!…And the GenEdgers Aren’t Far Behind.” The program will explore topics such as how these two generations differ from past generations; Millennials in the workplace ; how modern technology may be affecting the interpersonal communication skills of younger folks and how to bridge the generation gaps. For further information about the forum, go to: http://www.southernct.edu/millennialforum.html

Halloween is a tough time to be a bat.

Only a month ago, the Flying Mammal had a buffet of available bugs to choose from for its meals. But the cool weather of late fall has drastically reduced the volume of mosquitoes, gnats and other flying insects from which to dine. The chillier conditions and declining food supply has sent some bats into hibernation already, with others preparing for the long, sleepy fast.

Brown bats are common in the United States.
Brown bats are common in the United States.

But if that’s not enough to give bats the blues, their reputation is annually besmirched during Halloween season. In movies, we see Dracula turn himself into a bat, flying around a haunted house and sucking blood from his victims. Kids equate bat costumes with those of witches, goblins and other menaces of the night.

“With the exception of ‘Batman,’ we generally don’t see bats portrayed in a positive light,” says Miranda Dunbar, assistant professor of biology at Southern and a self-proclaimed Defender of the Bat. “But the reality is the bat is actually one of the good guys.”

Dunbar, who has conducted extensive research on bats, has offered to help dispel some of the biggest myths about bats. Here are some of them:

Myth: Bats like to suck people’s blood.
Reality: There are only a few species of bat that consume blood at all, none of which are regularly found in the United States or Canada. And even among the species that do feed on blood, such as the vampire bat, they prefer livestock.

Myth: Bats are dirty animals that often spread rabies.
Reality: Bats are actually very clean, frequently giving themselves and their young tongue baths. And while it is possible to contact rabies from a bat, like many animals in wildlife, you have a much higher chance of getting rabies from raccoons, rats, foxes or dogs. When a bat gets rabies, it often dies within a week, not allowing it to hang around very long to spread the disease.

Myth: Bats are blind, at least during the day.
Reality: Although most have small eyes and don’t have great vision, they can see, even during the day. Some tropical species actually have vision that’s quite good.

Myth: Bats do nothing but sleep during the daytime hours.
Reality: Like other nocturnal animals, bats certainly sleep during the day. But they don’t sleep the entire time. In fact, they often groom and socialize during the day. Yes, they have friends.

Myth: All bats are brown or black in color.
Reality: While most in North America are some variation of brown, the Eastern red bats are actually a fiery red or orange. They are very handsome, but they tend to be a little high maintenance compared with the other bats.

Most bats wouldn't want to mess with this guy, an Eastern red bat.
Most bats wouldn’t want to mess with this guy, an Eastern red bat.

Myth: Other than eating some insects, the bat contributes little to the eco-system.
Reality: Not true. They eat a tremendous amount of insects – sometimes even their own weight in bugs during the course of an evening. But one of the little known facts about bats is that they are the primary pollinators and seed dispersers for many tropical fruits, such as bananas, mangoes and figs, as well as cashews and even for the Agave plant, which is used to make tequila. Their fur gets full of pollen when they eat the nectar of flowers. They then spread the pollen in their travels.

Note taking is one of the most underrated skills a person can learn in school.

You generally don’t get graded on it, per se, unless you take a class in shorthand. It’s often taught as a small component of another course.

But unlike some academic subjects that have little or no practical use after high school or college graduation, the ability to take notes has lifelong value.

blogphotonotetaking

Good note taking goes a long way toward making good journalists. Doctors and other medical staff rely on notes concerning a patient’s symptoms and diagnosis. Staff meetings often require taking down important information.

“Note taking is a skill – like shooting free throws or dancing the waltz – which must be learned and practiced to be done well,” says Lisa Kuchta, an instructor of communication at Southern.

She actually landed a job in college as a note taker. In the long run, the profitability of her job depended upon the accuracy and effectiveness of her notes.

Kuchta offers the following suggestions to students on effective note taking, although many of the same principles can be applied to adults, as well.

  • Do your homework. It is important to read the material on which a lecture is going to be based before the class. Teachers and professors will use terms or ideas from the readings in their lectures. If you don’t understand the material, it will be difficult to grasp the meaning of what is said in class.
  • Eliminate barriers to learning. Simply put, you can’t take good notes if you can’t pay attention. So, make sure you can see and hear clearly what is said and written on the board. Turn off your cell phone. Avoid the temptation of checking an email or instant message if you are taking notes via a laptop or tablet. And while students today are probably better at multi-tasking than in the past, research has shown that the brain can’t fully focus on two mental tasks at once.
  • Learn to pick out the main ideas. “Ten minutes of lecture can likely be boiled to a few main points and a handful of sub points,” Kuchta says. “Trying to write down everything the instructor says will inevitably cause you to miss important information. You just can’t write as fast as the lecturer can speak, unless you know shorthand.”
  • Practice, practice, practice. If you find yourself having difficulty choosing what to leave in and what to leave out, take some extra time to improve that skill. One way to practice is to listen to a news broadcast. After each story, try to retell the gist of it in one sentence.
  • Use a clear, outlined structure. Outlines enable the brain to think logically. They enable us to differentiate between major and minor points. You can choose your own style – Roman numerals, capital letters, stars and bullet points, or whatever system that makes you comfortable.
  • Put ideas into your own words. Just robotically copying what the lecturer says – even when you don’t have a clue as to what it means – isn’t going to help you understand the material later. “Instead, listen completely to what the professor is trying to tell you and — in your head – re-explain it to yourself in your own words so that it makes sense to you. If you realize it does not make sense to you, ask the teacher for clarification,” Kuchta says.
  • Type or reread your notes later that day. It takes a little more time, but it will be worth it in the long run. By re-reading and/or transcribing your notes, it will allow you to fill in the blanks on what you don’t understand while the information is still fresh in your mind. And it will also help you commit it to a longer-term memory.

“Becoming a better note-taker may take commitment and diligence, but improving your proficiency will make your job – in school and in the real world – so much easier,” Kuchta says.

Few would like to return to the days of the Cold War — an era during the 1950s and 60s when the United States and the Soviet Union competed for military supremacy in a nuclear chess match. But the sense of urgency generated by the geopolitical struggle was the impetus — certainly one of the driving forces — behind America’s push to become the first nation to successfully land a man on the moon.

To accomplish that goal, the United States needed to ensure that its science and technology education was second to none. The Soviet launching of Sputnik in 1957 — the first manmade satellite to orbit the Earth — jolted the United States into action. Science education became a priority in this nation. And dividends were paid with a successful manned space flight in 1969 — nearly a decade after President John F. Kennedy outlined that goal. It left little doubt about the technological superiority of the United States.

blogphotoscienceliteracyBut nearly four and a half decades later, the state of science education in the United States has become much more ambiguous. For example, tests measuring scientific aptitude and knowledge show that American children are not at the top of the list. Not even in the top 5. And many educators have decried a lack of interest in science at the middle and high school levels.

So, what has gone wrong? Like most such complex questions, the answer does not lie in a single cause. But a de-emphasis on science education — and especially science literacy — has played a role in that decline, according to Susan Cusato, chairwoman of the Science Education and Environmental Studies Department at Southern. During the last few decades, education has placed more emphasis on literacy and mathematics — reading, writing and ‘rithmetic – but Cusato contends that it has come at the expense of science education.

“It is generally not until middle school that actual science teachers begin teaching science,” Cusato says. “What happens is that there is a continual catch-up process in the classroom.”

Cusato also feels that science education has done a disservice in focusing too heavily on training scientists, rather than promoting scientific literacy. She says students should have achieved basic literacy skills in all the major disciplines before college, including science.

“No matter what career path or profession our students choose, knowledge and wonder of science is critical,” she says. “By avoiding science you miss out on experiencing incredible things on a different level that can bring you great joy and insight.” She points to driving a car, riding a plane, or going to a concert, as examples of everyday tasks people often take for granted without understanding how science makes those things happen.

She says that scientific literacy is needed, not merely to fulfill an academic requirement, but to gain a better appreciation and understanding for what is happening around us. This would include climate change, pandemics and the search for sustainable energy sources.

So, what can we do to improve our scientific literacy? Cusato recommends several steps we can take that are relatively simple and don’t require a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics.

  • Visit museums, parks and nature centers. Pick out some activities you enjoy, or would like to try, such as maple syrup weekends, bird watching, fishing or nature walks. Science is part of all of them.
  • When reading the paper or listening to the news, try to pay attention to science stories. They may be more interesting than you think initially.
  • Read science magazines and other publications. They don’t have to be dissertations on string theory or Einstein’s theory of relativity. But many science-based magazines are available at local bookstores, and are written for the general public with photos and diagrams that help illustrate the subject matter.
  • Mention a timely scientific topic at a family gathering or when you are with friends. It may actually inspire others to learn more about a subject.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask science-related questions of your teacher, doctor, or anyone involved in the sciences. Many people enjoy talking about their chosen fields of expertise with others.

Speaking of science education, Southern will hold a groundbreaking ceremony Friday on a new academic and science laboratory building. To read more, check out: http://www.southernct.edu/about/construction/new-science-building.html

 

The forces behind a self-fulfilling prophecy can be powerful.

Whether it’s Muhammad Ali or Joe Namath brashly predicting victory, or a winless high school baseball team anticipating a meltdown in the seventh inning after holding a narrow lead, believing in someone or something can sometimes lead to the anticipated consequences.

This phenomenon occurs in sports, to be sure. But it also takes place in our daily lives – at home, at school and at work. And when it happens at the highest levels of management, it can significantly affect an entire organization – for better or for worse.

Paul Stepanovich, chairman of Southern’s (academic) Management Department, and Pamela Hopkins, professor of management at Southern, say that while there are some very perceptive bosses who understand human and organizational dynamics, there are also bosses who “learn” some faulty logic as it pertains to the operation under their jurisdiction. And this can have a spiraling negative effect on the organization, the employee and ultimately the manager.

As an example, if a supervisor praises an employee, but notices shortly thereafter that the worker’s productivity falls off somewhat, the supervisor over time starts to associate praise with performance drop off. Similarly, if an employee has had a below normal period and is reprimanded by the boss, and suddenly the individual’s performance is on an upswing, the boss starts to assume that the employee is someone who needs to be monitored closely and only performs when the “stick” is used.

blogbossesphoto

And while there are some employees who actually do perform in this manner, Stepanovich believes that more often than not, the perception is faulty. “There is a statistical phenomenon called regression to the mean,” he says. “That basically means that there is a natural variation – or a range – in the performance of an employee that averages out over time.”

In other words, a period of better-than-average performance will usually be followed by a period that isn’t as remarkable. And a period of below average performance will usually be followed by a better performance. In the long run, it averages out to a certain level within a range.

Stepanovich and Hopkins believe that understanding this concept is crucial to good management, but often is not realized by those in authority. As a result, bosses often develop some faulty beliefs that can undermine their own goals. Workers can become resentful, angry and eventually lose heart, no longer caring about their own performance, let along that of the organization to which they belong. In effect, the bosses have created their own problem when one previously had never existed.

In light of Labor Day, we thought we would share with you some of the more common managerial mistakes as seen by Stepanovich and Hopkins:

• Punishing without cause. As stated earlier, performance tends to ebb and flow within a certain range, regardless of whether the person had been recently rewarded or reprimanded. Workers can sometimes become disheartened and eventually lose their energy and drive, often creating the “deadwood” of an organization.

• Changing outlook toward workers. While a boss may enter an organization with a theory that workers generally want to do well, the manager might associate a company’s decline in performance with the view that workers are not trying hard enough. Over time, that association leads to a change in philosophy – a belief that workers need to be coerced to work effectively. In reality, the decline probably would have improved without managerial intervention.

• Development of a micromanagement approach. A supervisor might believe in empowerment of the staff when they start a job, but if an empowerment program is tried and results do not change favorably right away, the supervisor might be tempted to pull the plug. This person starts to monitor the staff more closely and develops a more centralized power structure, thereby leading to problems associated with micromanagement. That outlook can be brought to a new job, as well.

• Creating an overreliance on financial incentives. Incentives can be beneficial, but when if the boss starts to rely too heavily on this tactic, it can backfire. Workers might start to “game the system,” rather than focus on what truly is beneficial to the organization. It is similar to the criticism of the “teaching to the test” approach in education today.

You could call mathematics the “A-Rod” of high school and college classes.

Most students either love it or hate it, and just like with the Yankees embattled third baseman these days, chances are you fall into the latter camp.

Sure, for some students, writing is the skill they just can’t master. For others, a foreign language will always seem foreign to them. But if you surveyed your high school or college, chances are math would top the list of students’ “least favorite classes.”

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“In the United States, we take it almost as a badge of honor to dislike math or to be ‘bad at math,’” says Adam Goldberg, assistant to the dean of the School of Education at Southern.

“While most people would be embarrassed to admit that they couldn’t read very well, those same people wouldn’t think twice about admitting they aren’t very good at math. In fact, math teachers often hear parents confess at parent conferences that they weren’t very good at math and this is why their son or daughter isn’t doing well. It is this attitude that keeps the negative cycle going.”

But why do so many people fear and loath math?

Goldberg believes much of the negativity begins in middle school or high school, when there is a shift in what students learn. In elementary school, students are taught how to add, subtract, multiply, divide, work with fractions, etc. But the emphasis starts to shift in grades 7 to 12 from practical applications to more abstract concepts.

As an example, he points to subtraction. Students learn how to “borrow” to solve subtraction problems at an early age. But they don’t usually learn why they are borrowing to solve the problem.

“Therefore, they don’t have the conceptual knowledge needed to really understand the material,” Goldberg says. “This is what causes the negative feelings toward math.”

The good news, however, is that there are things that people – especially students – can do to help overcome the fear of math. Here are a few:

• Try to change your attitude toward math. You don’t have to love math. But if you can learn just not to hate it, it will reduce your anxiety and that alone will help you do better.

• Practice every day. Well, maybe not every day. But spending 10 or 15 minutes doing some quick mental mathematical problems at least several days a week can help. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will be with math.

• Make it fun and relevant. Part of the problem for many students is that they find math to be boring and/or irrelevant. So, try to apply math functions to something you find interesting. For example, practice figuring out your batting average. Or, as we noted in a previous post about practical applications for the number pi (~3.14), you can calculate how much extra you have to run around a track if you are running 5 feet away from the inside. For more advanced math students, you can figure out how much interest you can earn on a CD at a particular rate if the interest is compounded continuously, weekly, etc.

• Consider getting some extra help or tutoring. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that math is not your best subject, or that it is your worst subject. The question becomes: What are you going to do about it? Most math teachers would be willing to help you after school or during a free period during the day. Or, if you would rather put the time in away from school, you can ask a parent, sibling or friend. Or you could even ask a math tutor. College students with a strong math background, especially those interested in becoming teachers, are often willing to help middle, high school and other college students.

• Reduce math test anxiety. Tests of any sort tend to create anxiety, but math tests often spike that anxiety to higher levels. Goldberg suggests checking out the following website to help reduce testing anxiety: http://www.ets.org/s/praxis/pdf/reducing_test_anxiety.pdf

Here are a few other websites recommended by Goldberg that can help you overcome the fear of math:

http://www.mathacademy.com/pr/minitext/anxiety/#strat
http://cfaalearning.etsu.edu/2011/09/16/11-ways-to-reduce-math-anxiety/
http://www.math.com/students/advice/anxiety.html