Math anxiety is a serious concern for teachers and students. Math anxiety has been determined to cause mental and physical stress, avoidance behaviours, and poor overall academic performance in students of all ages, including those in kindergarten. Younger students with math anxiety tend to avoid math by rushing through or not completing math assignments and homework. Critical concepts are often missed during early grade levels, resulting in lack of math foundation that is essential for later years of education.
The problem compounds as students encounter more complex math in middle school, high school, and college, further hurting achievement and promoting avoidance behaviours. In fact, a study done by Daniel Ansari (Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience) showed that 60% of Grade 8 students worry about having difficulty in math while 30% of students feel tense when completing math homework. With a heavy focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in middle and high schools, students with math anxiety are more likely to avoid math in college, deterring them from pursuing math-based careers.
Recognizing Math Anxiety
Before you take the steps to cure math anxiety within your child, you must recognize what leads to it and how to spot it. Understanding the causes, signs and symptoms of math anxiety will help your child overcome this issue.
Peers, Teachers and Parents Influences
Indicating a single cause of math anxiety is near impossible. Many factors can negatively influence children’s perspective of math from an early age. The fear of being wrong evolves as a student faces public embarrassment when they get a math question wrong. With peer pressure, math anxiety can be triggered.
Teachers’ influence also plays a huge role in shaping a child’s view of the subject. When students have difficulties understanding certain math concepts, they need a teacher who is willing to help them understand, and possibly change teaching methodologies. As every child is different, there is more than one correct way to learn math, and teachers should be able to identify the learning gaps in order to help students gain confidence and achieve math success.
Like teachers, parents are role models to children during growth and development. When parents are afraid of or do not value a subject by saying statements like ‘oh I’m not a math person, so it’s okay if you’re not good at math either’, children can interpret the wrong message. Children may view their parents as being successful without having a strong math background, bringing them to believe that they do not actually need math.
Psychological, Cognitive and Emotional Effects
Some students with math anxiety can get unusually nervous, clammy hands, increase heart rate, upset stomach, and lightheadedness. Besides these unwell physiological symptoms, students may also develop negative cognitive thinking. When math isn’t a student’s strong subject, they would believe they are naturally bad at it and will always be. They lose hope and motivation to improve their math skills. Students with math anxiety can also have intense emotional reactions. When students are unable to answer math questions quickly and correctly during math class, they may become overwhelmed, inducing a state of panic, anger, and/or heavy disappointment in themselves.
Overcoming Math Anxiety
While literature and math are completely different subjects, the study done by Daniel Ansari suggests that expressive writing has a positive effect when used prior to math tests. By writing about how students feel about the upcoming math exam and how they feel about math, anxiety is less likely to interfere with solving the problems that are on the exam. It changes how students think about mathematics by explicitly expressing their emotions, stress, and fears. Now that students have dealt with the anxiety, they may free up their cognitive resources, and fully concentrate on doing the math.
Prodigy Game & Other Math Games
Prodigy is a free, curriculum-aligned math game that offers content from every major math topic and covers Grades 1 to 8. Teachers are also increasingly using other math games to boost engagement. The goal is to motivate students to develop skills and make math fun. According to Educause, gameful learning can “reinforce the fact that failure is neither a setback nor an outcome but rather an indication that more work is needed to master the skill or knowledge at hand.”
Read Math Books
A 2018 study done by American Psychological Association (APA) showed that reading math-related stories before bed has a powerful lasting effect on children’s academic achievements. It also provides opportunities for engagement when children answer content questions, simple additions, or math word problems after their parents finish stories.
Children’s negative attitudes towards math can also be handled constructively by parents and teachers. A study conducted by Harvard professor, Alison Brooks, found that a simple solution may lie in anxiety reappraisal. Students who expressed their anxiety as excitement by replacing ‘I’m anxious’ with ‘I’m excited’ outperformed others on the math test. While neither their heart rates nor anxiety levels decreased, a minor change of attitude from a threat mindset to an opportunity mindset resulted in significantly more positive performance.
Get a Right Math Tutor
An eight-week study showed that one-on-one tutoring sessions can help remedy highly math-anxious children. Students got an MRI scan before and after their sessions, and the result revealed that their amygdala activity, which was induced by math anxiety, decreased after the sessions. In addition, a study in the Journal of Emerging Investigators found that students who received positive reinforcement had significantly lower heart rates when doing mental math. Instead of punishments, a well-trained teacher can motivate children through reward and an optimistic approach to overcoming any hurdles in learning. Teaching methodologies also differentiate a specialized math tutor from any math teacher.The right math tutor brings positive reinforcement by acknowledging math anxiety, rewarding improvement, and encouraging understanding not memorization.
Are you in need of a math tutor to help reduce your child’s math anxiety? Math Project offers math classes in Mississauga, Brampton, Oakville and online. We work hand-in-hand with the parents and our teachers to provide the best, and most suitable math tutoring for each student. Contact us today at 1-844-628-4243 to book a free assessment. For more information on our specialized curriculum and teaching methodology, visit our website at https://mathproject.ca/.
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The Effect of Expressive Writing on the Math Anxiety Scores of Middle School Students Enrolled in a Public School in East Texas – https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/
Overcoming Math Anxiety: 12 Evidence-Based Tips That Work – https://www.prodigygame.com/
Disassociating the relation between parents’ math anxiety and children’s math achievement: Long-term effects of a math app intervention – https://psycnet.apa.org/
Remediation of Childhood Math Anxiety and Associated Neural Circuits through Cognitive Tutoring – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
Coping with math anxiety key to learning, says Western Education expert – https://www.edu.uwo.ca/
How anxiety around math hurts student performance – https://www.cbc.ca/