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Penalties and Geometry: Overcoming your deepest fears

My heart was pumping. My knees were shaking. My throat went dry. I couldn’t concentrate. But last Saturday I overcame my fears. I opened my eyes. And watched Brazil and Chile face off in a penalty shootout. All the way to the end.

Yes. Even watching penalties gives me the shakes! So what must it be like for the players? I can’t imagine! Since 1982, 221 players have lined up to take a penalty in 24 World Cup penalty shootouts. 63 have failed to score.

That’s almost 3 in 10 anxious penalty takers! Meanwhile, the OECD tells us that about 3 in 10 boys get nervous doing maths problems. In most countries, high levels of maths anxiety are closely linked with lower test results. Students who suffer from maths anxiety won’t – or can’t – even try to solve maths problems.

Penalties and Geometry

The bubble graph compares the nerves of maths students and penalty takers in the remaining World Cup countries. I’ve chosen to take boys only, since they’re the ones taking penalties at the World Cup. It’s worth noting that in most countries, girls get much more nervous than boys about maths. This is a big problem, since more confident girls in maths means (a) more equitable education systems and (b) more qualified people to take on techy and scientific¬† jobs.

We can see that: Continue reading