# K is for k unit vector, is for Kahn

If Math anxiety is a diagnosable disorder, then I am the poster child. Just the thought of having to manipulate numbers to solve a problem brings on symptoms of a panic attack –  I feel my heart racing, I begin to glisten with perspiration, and my stomach begins to flip-flop.

It was not always so. In the 7th grade, the results of a standardized test showed my Math achievement to be equivalent to that of an 11th or 12th grader. Of course, imposter syndrome set in, preventing me from claiming that my success was due to my ability. I attributed it to luck. That was the last time I experienced any sense of pride in my mathematical ability.

Ninth grade Algebra was my downfall. Suddenly, we were replacing a known quantity such as the nine in (9 + 3 = ), for an unknown, and I needed much more scaffolding to understand algebraic concepts than my either inexperienced or inept instructor provided. In addition, the instructor – and I am sure the descriptor would be inept in this instance – left the room during our exams. Now, what could anyone expect of  a classroom full of 13 and 14 year-olds when given the opportunity to compare answers? Right, we cheated.  I can honestly say that was the only time that I participated in cheating. In my case and the case of others in the classroom, we did not actively ask for answers. Rather, when someone gave an answer to a problem that we had not yet solved, if that person was someone we looked up to, we merely wrote down the answer, doubting that we were as smart as the one who finished it first. I received a “B” in the class and knew in my heart that I did not have above average ability in Algebra. After that year I bought into the myth that girls could not do Math.

The next year, a new school and a new subject – Geometry. Since I grasp things visually, I did fine with the concepts. However, whenever we had to solve or prove problems using Algebra, I was at a loss. Thus, I struggled throughout the year to maintain even an average grade. Knowing that my chosen university only required the first two years of high school mathematics in those days, after my sophomore year, I did not enroll in Math again.

K is for k unit vector ~

Fast forward to my most recent degree, a Master’s in Clinical Psychology. In order to be admitted to the program, even with three other college degrees behind me (including a Ph.D.), I had to take the GRE – Graduate Records Exam for the first time. When I started studying the math section of the review book, it was not long before I was lost! I went to our university’s study center for help, only to be overwhelmed by a bright – probably gifted – student who did not know how to simplify his explanations enough for me to understand. I was in despair when I was expected to understand phrases like, “Just solve for the k vector.” What to do?

K is for Kahn

It was then that discovered the Kahn Academy, developed by Salman Kahn, with funding from Bill Gates and others. He uses video to illustrate mathematical problem solving, accompanied by his calm and soothing voice explanations. Upon watching a few of his programs and solving problems along with him, I began to feel at ease and my anxiety began to abate. The motto on the homepage of Kahn Academy (www.khanacademy.org) is, “You only have to know one thing: you can learn anything.” What a lifesaver this discovery was for me.  Readers can see his Ted Talk at https://www.ted.com/speakers/salman_khan.

One of my favorite activities is mentoring young gifted students and, needless to say, we spend time with Sal Kahn often. We learn or reinforce math concepts. We learn about their favorite historical events. We spend virtual time in the Vatican and in the most famous museums in the world viewing masterpieces of art. For me and for my students, we have a valuable teaching and learning tool at our fingertips.