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IntMath Newsletter: Functions, Gini Coefficient, math anxiety

By Murray Bourne, 25 Feb 2010

25 February 2010

In this Newsletter

1. Math tip (a) - Functions
2. Math tip (b) - Gini Coefficient
3. Math in the news - Math Anxiety
4. Latest from the Math Blog
5. Final thought - Attention

1. Math tip (a) – Functions


Math functions is a topic that confuses a lot of people, but is very important.

In this article I discuss a problem sent to me by a reader. He got stuck because he was not sure about function notation.

[Confession time: When I was a young math student, I remember struggling with the concept of functions for a few months. Now I realize the problem was the notation, not with me!]

Check out the article: Functions

2. Math tip (b) – Gini Coefficient

Gini Coefficient

Here's an interesting "real life" math topic - Gini Coefficient.

In some countries, wealth (and income) is distributed reasonably evenly (for example, Denmark), while in others, a small group of people hold most of the money (many African and South American countries).

The Gini Coefficient is one way to measure income equality.

Some of the math concepts in this article include:

  • Statistics
  • Area
  • Integration (area under a curve)

Here's the link: The Gini Coefficient of wealth distribution

3. Math in the news - Math Anxiety

math anxiety
[Photo credit: taylormariephotography]

(a) Anxiety affects basic counting: It's been known for some time that anxiety about math causes a conflict in our brains and reduces math performance. But it was thought this only affected higher-level math.

A new study from Canada's Waterloo University, "Mathematics Anxiety Affects Counting But Not Subitizing During Visual Enumeration" shows math anxiety affects even basic counting. You can read a (simple English) summary here:

New Waterloo study shows math anxiety hinders basic counting

(b) Girls learn math anxiety from their teachers: A study by the University of Chicago examined 52 boys and 65 girls in elementary school classes taught by 17 different women.

The more math anxious the female teachers were, the more likely their female students became anxious about math. For more, see:

Female teachers’ math anxiety affects girls’ math achievement

4. Latest from the Math Blog


Beauty is defined by a new “Golden Ratio”, new research shows.

Is she beautiful? The new Golden Ratio



Here’s a video about population trends. I'm not sure I agree with all he's saying, but it's interesting to think about.

Friday Math movie – Addressing Population Myths


One of life’s toughest decisions is choosing the right mate. Math to the rescue!

How math helps to choose the right marriage partner

5. Final thought – Attention and math

The articles about math anxiety reminded me of the following quote. We like to think we can multi-task, but in fact we can only really pay attention to one thing at a time. Yes, that applies to both men and women!

However, women tend to have a better ability at what I call "parallel-tasking", that is, keeping track of several things at once.

Math anxiety affects counting (and all levels of math) because it takes up valuable attention. If we're concentrating on our fears of ridicule, or our performance anxiety, or what our parents will say when we fail, it "clogs" the attention we can give to the math.

I'll leave you with this quote:

“There is no such thing as not paying attention; the brain is always paying attention to something.”
(Patricia Wolfe)

Until next time, enjoy whatever you learn.

See the 3 Comments below.

3 Comments on “IntMath Newsletter: Functions, Gini Coefficient, math anxiety”

  1. Michael says:

    Thank you for the interesting mail.,

    I learned about the Gini coefficient for the first time


    M L

  2. Buhle says:

    Hi Murray Bourne

    Thank you for this newsletter. I found it very useful because it relates to the research paper I am writing based on income inequality.

    Keep up the fantastic work. We appreciate it very much.


  3. sudha says:

    It's really nice.. Actually i learned lot from your int math letter.. It shows various faces of mathematics

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