1. Ten Ways To Reduce
1. Overcome negative self-talk.
2. Ask questions.
3.Consider math a foreign language -- it must be practiced.
4.Don't rely on memorization to study mathematics.
5.READ your math text.
6.Study math according toYOUR LEARNING STYLE.
7. Get help the same day you don't understand.
8. Be relaxed and comfortable while studying math.
10.Develop responsibility for your own successes and
The Causes and Prevention of Math Anxiety
by Marilyn Curtain-Phillips, M. Ed.
Mathematics anxiety has been defined as feelings of tension and anxiety that
interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical
problems in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic situations Math anxiety
can cause one to forget and lose one’s self-confidence (Tobias, S., 1993).
Research confirms that pressure of timed tests and risk of public
embarrassment have long been recognized as sources of unproductive tension
among many students. Three practices that are a regular part of the traditional
mathematics classroom and cause great anxiety in many students are imposed
authority, public exposure and time deadlines. Although these are a regular
part of the traditional mathematics classroom cause great deal of anxiety.
Therefore, teaching methods must be re-examined. Consequently, there should
be more emphasis on teaching methods which include less lecture, more
student directed classes and more discussion.
Given the fact that many students experience math anxiety in the traditional
classroom, teachers should design classrooms that will make children feel more
successful . Students must have a high level of success or a level of failure that
they can tolerate. Therefore, incorrect responses must be handled in a positive
way to encourage student participation and enhance student confidence.
Studies have shown students learn best when they are active rather than
passive learners (Spikell, 1993). The theory of multiple intelligences addresses
the different learning styles. Lessons are presented for visual/spatial,
logical/mathematics, musical, body/kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal
and verbal/linguistic. Everyone is capable of learning, but may learn in different
ways. Therefore, lessons must be presented in a variety of ways. For example,
different ways to teach a new concept can be through play acting, cooperative
groups, visual aids, hands on activities and technology. Learners are different
than they were forty years ago. These learners today ask questions why
2. something is done this way or that way and why not this way? Whereas years
ago learners did not question the why of math concepts; they simply
memorized and mechanically performed the operations needed.
Students today have a need for practical math. Therefore, math needs to be
relevant to their everyday lives. Students enjoy experimenting. To learn
mathematics, students must be engaged in exploring, conjecturing, and
thinking rather than, engaged only in rote learning of rules and procedures.
Students’ prior negative experiences in math class and at home when learning
math are often transferred and cause a lack of understanding of mathematics.
According to Sheila Tobias, millions of adults are blocked from professional and
personal opportunities because they fear or perform poorly in mathematics for
many, these negative experiences remain throughout their adult lives.
Math is often associated with pain and frustration. For instance, unpaid bills,
unforeseen debts, unbalanced checkbooks, IRS forms are a few of the negative
experiences associated with numbers. Parents should show their children how
numbers are successfully used by them in positive pleasant ways, such as in
cooking, sewing, sports, problem solving in hobbies and home repairs.
Math must be looked upon in a positive light to reduce anxiety. A person’s state
of mind has a great influence on his/her success. Many games are based on
math concepts. Some games that are beneficial to learners and are enjoyed are
cards playing, Life, Yahtzee, Battleship and Tangrams.
With all the tension and anxiety, math humor is greatly needed. Young children
enjoy cartoons and jokes. Cartoons may be used to introduce a concept or for
class discussion. Most children will master mathematical concepts and skills
more readily if they are presented first in concrete, pictorial and symbols. For
example manipulatives are concrete objects used to teach a concept. By using
manipulatives, pictures and symbols to model or represent abstract ideas, the
stage is set for young learners to understand the abstractions they represent.
Students enjoy the change from lecture and books and they are more inclined
to explore with manipulatives and show greater interest in classwork.
Cooperative groups provide students a chance to exchange ideas, to ask
questions freely, to explain to one another, to clarify ideas in meaningful ways
and to express feelings about their learning. These skills acquired at an early
age will be greatly beneficial throughout their adult working life.
In conclusion, math anxiety is very real and occurs among thousands of people.
Much of this anxiety happens in the classroom due to the lack of consideration
of different learning styles of students. Today, the needs of society require a
greater need for mathematics. Math must be looked upon in a positive light to
reduce math anxiety. Therefore, teachers must re-examine traditional teaching
methods which often do not match students’ learning styles and skills needed in
society. Lessons must be presented in a variety of ways. For instance, a new
concept can be taught through play acting, cooperative groups, visual aids,
hands on activities and technology. As a result once young children see math as
fun, they will enjoy it, and, the joy of mathematics could remain with them
throughout the rest of their lives.
Spikell, M. (1993). Teaching mathematics with manipulatives: A resource of
activities for the K-12 teacher. New York: Allyn and Bacon.
Tobias, S. (1993). Overcoming math anxiety. New York: W. W. Norton &
Marilyn Curtain-Phillips teaches high school mathematics and is the author of
Math Attack: How to Reduce Math Anxiety in the Classroom, at Work and in
Everyday Personal Use,(1999), $15.00. You can purchase her book through our
Overcoming Math Anxiety
Do you feel nervous about math? Do you dislike math? Do you have fear of doing math? If
so, you are not alone. You may have "math anxiety."
Math anxiety is not unusual. You might be experiencing some symptoms of math anxiety
lack of motiviation to work on math
not studying regularly
putting off math homework until the last minute
panic when doing math homework or tests
difficulty remembering math facts
relying on memorization rather than understanding
Math anxiety is a condition that you have the power to change, if you so desire. Math anxiety
is a learned behavior; you can change it!
Here are a few suggestions to help overcome math anxiety:
Do math every day.. You will need to work on your math course each day, if only for a
half-hour. You must avoid doing all your math homework and studying on one or two days
per week. Schedule quality study time throughout the week and stick to your schedule.
Study smart.. Read the information on study skills, time management, note-taking and
textbook-reading on this website or in one of the math study skills books. The more you
try different approaches, the more you will discover what works for you.
Attend class. You must attend class to keep up with the fast pace of a college-level math
course. You will also get information regarding tests and instructor expectations. You will
see examples that are not in the textbook. You are responsible for all information and
concepts presented in class, whether you are present or not.
Get organized! You need to keep good class notes. You need to keep a good math
notebook with lists of vocabulary, properties, formulas, theorems and procedures. Must
anxiety is caused by disorganization.
Continually test yourself. Be aware of what you know and of what you don't know. Keep
practicing the concepts and problems presented in the classroom and in the textbook.
Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Having a negative attitude is an
obstacle that does not need to prevent you from succeeding. Be mindful of what you are
saying to yourself. Develop positive affirmations such as "I will succeed in this course!" or
"I love math!" to counteract any negative feelings you may have about your abilities or
about math itself.
Ultiize all your resources. The Math Learning Center, videotapes, textbook, friends,
study groups, your instructor, the internet....all are available to help you succeed. Only
you can take advanage of them, however.
4. There are a variety of other proven techniques and activites that will help to to conquer math
anxiety. There are a variety of resources that will address these techniques and activities in
more detail than is possible here.
Mission College Mathematics Department
Talk to your instructor or a tutor in the Math Learning Center about your feelings
toward mathematics. Acknowledging your feelings is the first step in conquering
them. Your instructor and tutors can help direct you to good resources and practices
that can help you reduce or eliminate the emotional blocks to learning mathematics.
Websites: Check out these websites for more details and suggestions.
o Ten Ways to Reduce Math Anxiety
o Cool video on math anxiety and how to overcome it.
o Ten More Ways to Reduce Math Anxiety
o Conquering Math Anxiety
o Coping with Math Anxiety
o Overcoming Math Anxiety
o Resources for overcoming math anxiety
o More great ways to reduce stress and math anxiety
Ways To Reduce Math Anxiety
Professor Daria Santerre
Norwalk Community College
1. Realize that you are not alone!
2. Admit it! Once you recognize that you have math anxiety, you can start
to overcome it.
3. Become aware of where your math anxiety began.
4. Recognize your self-defeating talk and correct it to a more positive
talk. "Talk" mathematics.
5. Try to avoid teachers/tutors/peer/family who aren’t helpful or
6. Trust your instincts and don’t put down your approaches to a math
problem. Do math in a way that is comfortable for you. Remember there
is usually more than one way to do a math problem.
5. 7. Ask questions. This is the way towards better understanding. Besides,
other students will be glad you asked. Keep in mind – there’s no such
thing as a stupid question.
8. Know the basics. Go back and review concepts from an earlier math
9. Consider math a foreign language -- it must be practiced.
10. Don't rely on memorization to study mathematics. Try to understand
the concept. If you are anxious, your memory is the first to go.
11. Don’t put off math until the last minute. It’s better if you do a little
math every day – build it into your schedule.
12. Read your math text, follow the examples and explanations.
13. Decide what type of study environment works best for you (quiet
place at a table, or music in the background in a comfortable chair, etc.)
Be relaxed and comfortable while studying math.
14. Take breaks. Don’t work for hours on end. Sometimes it’s best to walk
away from a problem and come back to it later.
15. Study math according to your learning style.
16. Get help the same day you don't understand. If you are having
difficulty, seek help as quickly as possible form your instructor, Math Lab,
the Tutoring Center, or fellow students.
17. Develop responsibility for your own successes and failures.
18. Don’t pressure yourself. Take pride in the strides you do make. Math
anxiety is not cured in a day. It’s a slow process.
Go to "Math anxiety"
Go to "Math study skills inventory"
Go to "Tips for success"
6. Reducing Math Anxiety
Date: 08/26/2005 at 23:30:30
Subject: How to overcome math anxiety
I am a teacher in the tertiary level. I would like to know ways by
which students math anxiety can be overcome?
Date: 08/27/2005 at 12:02:00
From: Doctor Ian
Subject: Re: How to overcome math anxiety
I think the best way to reduce math anxiety is by never trying to
explain something in terms of concepts that aren't already well
understood by the students.
Think about some topic that you know relatively little about (e.g.,
monetary policy), and imagine that you're attending a lecture for
specialists in that field. The speaker is trying to explain some
concept, but he's doing it using vocabulary that you don't really
understand (even though some of it, like "interest rates", may sound
somewhat familiar). Now imagine that you know you're going to be
tested on what the speaker has been talking about later on.
You'd probably feel pretty anxious, wouldn't you? That's how a lot of
your students feel when you use terms that they recognize but don't
actually, thoroughly understand.
- Doctor Ian, The Math Forum
Date: 08/27/2005 at 17:26:45
From: Doctor Wilko
Subject: Re: How to overcome math anxiety
I just wanted to add some information to what Dr. Ian said.
This is an excerpt from a paper I worked on a couple years back. If
you read through this you may be able to pull out a couple "nuggets"
of information that may be helpful to you:
...Tobias explains that math anxiety is an obsession with the idea
that "everyone knows that I don't understand". "I'd better not draw
attention to myself by asking questions" (Cited in Stuart, 2000).
This feeling of fear can cause headaches, queasy stomach, sweaty
palms, dry mouth, and eventually can even develop into math avoidance
7. or math phobia. Math anxiety can be conquered if teachers and parents
work together to understand its causes, as well as implement effective
strategies to reduce its harmful effect on students.
One of the first and obvious places where math anxiety can develop
for a student is his or her home. A parent or guardian's influence
on their child is crucial to how the child views and interprets his
or her environment. A child may view math as being unimportant if
his or her parents either do not like math or see it as useless.
Many times parents can be heard saying, "I was never good at math"
or "math was hard for me, so I don't expect my child to be able to
understand it either". Parents need to encourage their children to
do their best regardless of how they did in the subject. In
addition to just encouraging their children, parents can become
involved by working together with the teacher to make a difference
for the child. The main idea stressed here is attitude. A child's
attitude will be affected by his or her parent's attitude towards
Not only are the attitudes of a parent important, but also those of
a student's teacher. Teachers, probably second to parents, are
students' most important influence in how they view math. Jackson
and Leffingwell (1999) conducted research that reveals three
categories of grade levels where math anxiety occurs:
1. Elementary level, grades 3 and 4.
2. High School level, grades 9-11.
3. College level, freshman year.
Students face an increase in the level of difficulty during fourth
grade. These students are learning more complex concepts, such as
fractions, taking timed tests in competition with their peers, and
having to memorize multiplication tables and formulas. On top of
this increased pressure that students experience, their teachers may
get angry when asked for help, and even point out their mistakes in
front of the entire class.
The next cluster of students who experience math anxiety are in high
school between ninth and eleventh grades. Again, here a teacher's
attitude towards math and his or her students can either make or
break them. Often high school teachers become angry when asked for
help and even verbalize that the students should have learned it the
first time it was taught. Many high school students also attribute
their math anxiety to having been forced to go to and stay at the
chalkboard until they finished a problem that they did not even
The last cluster where math anxiety can occur is during a student's
freshman year in college. Professors often lecture with little
interaction with their students. Students who do ask questions may
feel belittled for not having the prerequisite knowledge. Professors
may even dislike or have less patience with entry level math classes.
In addition to the above teacher actions, math anxiety can be induced
many other ways. A teacher who emphasizes product over process
encourages less participation from his or her students. Students who
receive a low grade for a mistake, regardless if they understood the
problem or not, may develop math anxiety. Many instructors teach math
as rules and symbols in a chapter by chapter fashion. As a result,
students often view math as disconnected bits of information that is
unrelated to the real world. Probably one of the greatest teacher
8. mistakes is starting a new concept before the current one has been
mastered, especially since most math is built up from learning
A parent or teacher's attitude toward gender can greatly influence a
student of any grade level. According to Jackson and Leffingwell
(1999), girls are ridiculed more often than boys, given less help
than boys, and even discouraged from taking math as much as boys.
However, it is a common myth that boys are better at math than
girls, and it simply may be society that hinders girls from
experiencing their math potential. In fact, research suggests that
girls start out ahead of boys in talking, reading, and counting
(Zaslavsky Cited in Fotoples, 2000).
After reviewing the attitudes and actions that contribute to a student
developing math anxiety, it should be more clear how to prevent this
condition. Two main strategies that teachers can use to help
eliminate math anxiety and build student confidence are demonstrated
in their emotional and physical actions.
The first area of strategies appeal more to the emotions of students
and are more general to the classroom environment. These strategies
are related to the idea of the importance of teachers' attitudes
towards students. Teachers should only use positive talk, encourage
questions, and demonstrate a sensitive character. Teachers of this
character puts themselves in the shoes of their students, acknowledges
their fears, and have an overall acceptance of all the students.
Overall, this type of teacher has a safe classroom where students feel
accepted and are encouraged to learn.
The physical strategies are more specific to the teaching of math.
Teachers should use manipulatives whenever possible to solidify
concepts in their students' minds. Cooperative learning and peer
tutoring are also highly encouraged. Students often benefit from
getting an explanation from the viewpoint of a classmate. In order
that students do not see math as unrelated and disconnected bits of
information, teachers should constantly review past material, make
connections from the math world to the real world, and master concepts
before moving on. Math anxiety appears to be highest on test days.
To help with this, teachers need to teach test taking strategies, as
well as give the students study guides to focus them.
In their book, _Mind Over Math_, Kogelman and Warren (1978) stress
the importance of acknowledging anxiety and writing about it as a
first step in dealing with it. For teachers, this may mean having
journal writing where students express their feelings about a topic
being covered or about math in general. Many teachers also have had
success by writing up a plan of action in which the teacher and
student sign it and together remain focused on achieving a goal.
These are just a handful of suggestions that may help students become
less anxious during math class.
As technology continues to grow, math is becoming more demanded by
industry. This demand for math is causing a surge of math anxiety
for many. For teachers, the challenge remains to teach math
effectively without inducing math anxiety in students. Math anxiety
can be lessened and possibly eliminated if parents and teachers
collaborate to understand its causes and implement proper strategies
to reduce its effect. As teachers and parents demonstrate an
accepting, sincere, and positive attitude, they will be able to
9. build the confidence of their students.
Fiore, G. (1999). Math-abused students: are we prepared to teach
them? Mathematics Teacher, 92 (5), 403-406. Wilson Select Plus.
Online. OCLC First Search. 24 Oct. 2000.
Fotoples, R.M. (2000). Overcoming math anxiety. Kappa Delta Pi
Record, 36 (4), 149-151. Wilson Select Plus. Online. OCLC First
Search. 24 Oct. 2000.
Jackson, C.D. & Leffingwell R.J. (1999). The role of instructors in
creating math anxiety in students from kindergarten through college.
Mathematics Teacher, 92 (7), 583-586. Wilson Select Plus. Online.
OCLC First Search. 24 Oct. 2000.
Kogelman, S. & Warren, J. (1978). Mind Over Math. New York: McGraw
Schwartz, A.E. (2000). Axing math anxiety. The Education Digest, 65
(5), 62-64. Wilson Select Plus. Online. OCLC First Search. 24 Oct. 2000.
Steale, D.F. & Arth, A.A. (1998). Lowering anxiety in the math
curriculum. The Education Digest, 63, 18-23. Wilson Select Plus.
Online. OCLC First Search. 24 Oct. 2000.
Stuart, V. B. (2000). Math curse or math anxiety? Teaching Children
Mathematics, 6 (5), 330-335. Wilson Select Plus. Online. OCLC First
Search. 24 Oct. 2000.
Does this help?
- Doctor Wilko, The Math Forum
Math anxiety is a phenomenon that is often considered when examining students’ problems
in mathematics. Mark H. Ashcraft, Ph.D. defines math anxiety as “a feeling of tension,
apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance” (2002, p. 1). The first math
anxiety measurement scale was developed by Richardson and Suinn in 1972. Since this
development, several researchers have examined math anxiety in empirical studies.
Hembree  (1990) conducted a thorough meta-analysis of 151 studies concerning math
anxiety. It determined that math anxiety is related to poor math performance on math
achievement tests and that math anxiety is related to negative attitudes concerning math.
Hembree also suggests that math anxiety is directly connected with math avoidance.
Ashcraft (2002) suggests that highly anxious math students will avoid situations in which
they have to perform mathematical calculations. Unfortunately, math avoidance results in less
competency, exposure and math practice, leaving students more anxious and mathematically
unprepared to achieve. In college and university, anxious math students take fewer math
courses and tend to feel negatively towards math. In fact, Ashcraft found that the correlation
between math anxiety and variables such as confidence and motivation are strongly negative.
10. According to Ashcraft, because math anxiety can cause math avoidance, an
empiricaldilemma arises. For instance, when a highly math-anxious student performs
disappointingly on a math question, it could be due to math anxiety, or the lack of
competency in math because of math avoidance. Ashcraft determined that by administering a
test that becomes increasingly more mathematically challenging, he noticed that even highly
math-anxious individuals do well on the first portion of the test measuring performance.
However, on the latter and more difficult portion of the test, there was a stronger negative
relationship between accuracy and math anxiety.
People's fear of math can be related to test taking and performance anxiety. Some scholars
have suggested a strong relation between math anxiety and math performance. Current
research in math anxiety concerns working memory.
Anxiety Rating Scale
A rating scale for mathematics anxiety was written about in 1972 by Paolo Morden and
Suinn. Paolo Morden and Suinn defined mathematical anxiety as "feelings of apprehension
and tension concerning manipulation of numbers and completion of mathematical problems
in various contexts."
Math and culture
While there are overarching similarities concerning the acquisition of math skills, researchers
have shown that children’s mathematical abilities differ across countries. In Canada, students
score substantially lower in math problem-solving and operations than students in Korea and
Singapore. Researchers have conducted thorough comparisons between countries, and have
determined that in countries such as Taiwan and Japan, parents place more emphasis on effort
rather than one’s innate intellectual ability in school success. Moreover, parents in these
countries tend to set higher expectations and standards for their children. In turn, students
spend more time on homework and value homework more than American children.
(Stevenson & Lee, 1990).
Math and gender
Another difference in mathematic abilities often explored in research concerns gender
disparities. There has been research examining gender difference in performance on
standardized tests across various countries. Beller and Gafni’s have shown that children at
approximately nine years of age do not show consistent gender difference in relation to math
skills. However, in 17 out of the 20 countries examined in this study, 13 year old boys tended
to score higher than girls. Moreover, mathematics is often labeled as a masculine ability; as a
result, girls often have low confidence in their math capabilities. These gender
stereotypes can reinforce low confidence in girls and can cause math anxiety as research has
shown that performance on standardized math tests is affected by one’s confidence (Dar-
Nimrod & Heine, 2006). As a result, educators have been trying to abolish this stereotype by
fostering confidence in math in all students in order to avoid math anxiety.
11. Mathematics and women
Related to this is gender and mathematics as younger female scholars are thought to develop
anxiety towards mathematics and sciences when they become more interested in social
relations in their teen years. It is thought that women experience more anxiety in mathematics
as a group than men and this has also been suggested in regards computer programming. See
for instance [Copper, Joel, & Weaver D, Kimberlee. Gender and Computers: "Understanding
the Digital Divide" who explore computing and gender and especially have done experiments
relating gender and anxiety.
The principles of mathematics are generally understood at an early age; preschoolers can
comprehend the majority of principles underlying counting. By kindergarten, it is common
for children to use counting in a more sophisticated manner by adding and subtracting
numbers. While kindergarteners tend to use their fingers to count, this habit is soon
abandoned and replaced with a more refined and efficient strategy; children begin to perform
addition and subtraction mentally at approximately six years of age. When children reach
approximately eight years of age, they can retrieve answers to mathematical equations from
memory. With proper instruction, normally functioning children acquire these basic
mathematic skills, and are able to solve more complex mathematical problems with more
sophisticated training. (Kail & Zolner, 2005).
High risk teaching styles are often explored to gain a better understanding of math anxiety.
Goulding, Rowland and Barber  (2002) suggest that there are linkages between a teacher’s
lack of subject knowledge and ability to effectively plan teaching material. These findings
suggest that teachers that do not have a sufficient background in mathematics may struggle
with the development of comprehensive lesson plans for their students. Similarly, Laturner’s
research  (2002) shows that teachers with certification in math are more likely to be
passionate and committed about teaching math than those without certification. However,
those without certification vary in their commitment to the profession depending on
Moreover, a study conducted by Kawakami, Steele, Cifa, Phills, and Dovidio  (2008) they
examined attitudes towards math and behavior during math examinations. The study
examined the effect of extensive training in teaching women to approach math. The results
showed that women that were trained to approach rather than avoid math showed a positive
implicit attitude towards math. These findings were only consistent with women low in initial
identification with math. This study was replicated with women either encouraged to
approach math or received neutral training. Results were consistent and demonstrated that
women taught to approach math had an implicit positive attitude and completed more math
problems than women taught to approach math in a neutral manner.
Johns, Schmader, and Martens  (2005) conducted a study in which they examined the
effect of teaching stereotype threat as a means of improving women’s math performance. The
researchers concluded from the study’s results that women tended to perform worse than men
when problems were described as math equations. However, women did not differ from men
in a condition with a test sequence described as problem solving or in a condition in which
12. they learned about stereotype threats. This research has practical implications; educating
female teachers about stereotype threat can reduce its negative effects in the classroom.
In the United States, many people believe that only a few "gifted" individuals have "what it
takes" to learn math, and that hard work cannot compensate for this. Studies have shown
"When asked to explain why some children do better in math than others, Asian children,
their teachers, and their parents point to hard work, their American counterparts to ability."
Women mathematicians in the United States have almost always been a minority according
to Margaret Murray. Although the exact difference fluctuates with the times as she has
explored in her book [Women Becoming Mathematicians: Creating a Professional Identity in
Post-World War II America]. "Since 1980, women have earned over 17 percent of the
mathematics doctorates.... [In The United States]". The trends in gender are by no means
clear, but perhaps parity is still a way to go. Thus parity will take more work to overcome
mathematical anxiety and this is one reason for women in mathematics being role models for
Mathematical anxiety in schools: Causes and potential solutions
Students often develop mathematical anxiety in schools, often as a result of learning from
teachers who are themselves anxious about their mathematical abilities in certain areas.
Typical examples of areas where mathematics teachers are often incompetent or semi-
competent include fractions, (long)division, algebra, geometry "with proofs", calculus, and
topology. In many countries, would-be math teachers are required only to obtain passing
grades of 51% in mathematics exams, so that a math student who has failed to understand
49% of the math syllabus throughout his or her education can, and often does, become a math
teacher. His or her fears and lack of understanding then pass naturally to his or her students.
As John Taylor Gatto has demonstrated at length, modern Western schools were
deliberately designed during the late 19th century to create an environment which is ideal for
fostering fear and anxiety, and for preventing or delaying learning.
Math is usually taught as a right and wrong subject and as if getting the right answer were
paramount. In contrast to most subjects, mathematics problems almost always have a right
answer. Additionally, the subject is often taught as if there were a right way to solve the
problem and any other approaches would be wrong, even if students got the right answer.
When learning, understanding the concepts should be paramount, but with a right/wrong
approach to teaching math, students are encouraged not to try, not to experiment, not to find
algorithms that work for them, and not to take risks. “Teachers benefit children most when
they encourage them to share their thinking process and justify their answers out loud or in
writing as they perform math operations. […] With less of an emphasis on right or wrong and
more of an emphasis on process, teachers can help alleviate students' anxiety about math”.
13. While teaching of many subjects has progressed from rote memorization to the current
Constructivist approach, math is still frequently taught with a rote learning behaviorist
approach. That is,
a problem set is introduced
a solution technique is introduced
practice problems are repeated until mastery is achieved
Constructivist theory says the learning and knowledge is the student’s creation, yet rote
learning and a right/wrong approach to teaching math ensures that it is external to the student.
Teachers who actually understand what they are teaching tend to encourage questions from
the students. Those teachers who do not understand much about their subject, on the other
hand, impose fear on the students to prevent them asking questions which might expose the
It has long been well established that anyone (other than a tiny minority who have serious
learning disabilities) can learn any area of mathematics, given a desire to learn, a coherent
presentation of the information, and adequate practice. Nevertheless, many educational
administrators continue to profess the belief that anything more complex than simple
arithmetic is too difficult for most people.
In spite of the unfortunate design of the modern school system, a remarkably high percentage
of schoolchildren continue to find mathematics interesting, relaxing, easy, and enjoyable.
Studies by Herbert P. Ginsburg, Columbia University, show the influence of parents' and
teachers' attitudes on "'the child's expectations in that area of learning.'... It is less the actual
teaching and more the attitude and expectations of the teacher or parents that count." This is
further supported by a survey of Montgomery County, Maryland students who "pointed to
their parents as the primary force behind the interest in mathematics.".
Math Academy Online/Platonic Realms contends that math has two components. The first
component, commonly focused on in many schools, is to calculate the answer. This
component also has two subcomponents, namely the answer and the process or method used
to determine the answer. Focusing more on the process or method enables students to make
mistakes, but not 'fail at math'. The second component is to understand the mathematical
concepts that underlay the problem being studied. “… and in this respect studying
mathematics is much more like studying, say, music or painting than it is like studying
history or biology.”
Amongst others supporting this viewpoint is the work of Dr. Eugene Geist, Associate
Professor at Ohio University – Athens, Ohio and an early childhood education specialist.
Dr. Geist's recommendations include focusing on the concepts rather than the right answer
and letting students work on their own and discuss their solutions before the answer is given.
Emphasis is given that young people hate to be wrong and hate situations where they can be
embarrassed by being wrong.
14. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) (1989, 1995b) suggestions for
teachers seeking to prevent math anxiety include:
Accommodating for different learning styles
Creating a variety of testing environments
Designing positive experiences in math classes
Refraining from tying self-esteem to success with math
Emphasizing that everyone makes mistakes in mathematics
Making math relevant
Letting students have some input into their own evaluations
Allowing for different social approaches to learning mathematics
Emphasizing the importance of original, quality thinking rather than rote manipulation
Math (and Statistics) Therapy is a combination of coaching and counseling, provided for
adults by people with credentials in both counseling and math education. In Math Therapy
the reasons for anxiety are addressed, as well as the mathematical skills which are lacking.
New coping skills are introduced and practiced, so that fear, distaste or other negative
emotions do not block math (or statistics) learning.
There are several anxiety reducing techniques that teachers can teach their children and
practice periodically throughout the year. Teachers will need to learn these techniques and
encourage the students to practice them at home and to use them prior to testing or when
feeling anxious during math class.
Several studies have shown that relaxation techniques can be used to help alleviate anxiety
related to mathematics. In her workbook Conquering Math Anxiety, 3rd edition, Cynthia
Arem offers specific strategies to reduce math avoidance and anxiety. One strategy she
advocates for is relaxation exercises and indicates that by practicing relaxation techniques on
a regularly basis for 10–20 minutes students can significantly can reduce their anxiety.
Dr. Edmundo Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation taken from the book Mental
Toughness Training for Sports, Loehr (1986) can be used in a modified form to reduce
anxiety as posted on the website HypnoGenesis.
Visualization has also been used effectively to help reduce math anxiety. Arem has a chapter
that deals with reducing test anxiety and advocates the use visualization. In her chapter titled
Conquer Test Anxiety (Chapter 9) she has specific exercises devoted to visualization
techniques to help the student feel calm and confident during testing.
Studies have shown students learn best when they are active rather than passive learners.
The theory of multiple intelligences suggests that there is a need for addressing different
learning styles. Math lessons can be tailored for visual/spatial, logical/mathematics, musical,
auditory, body/kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal and verbal/linguistic learning
Everyone is capable of learning, but may learn best in different ways. Therefore, lessons must
be presented in a variety of ways. New concepts can be taught through play acting,
cooperative groups, visual aids, hands on activities or information technology. To help
with learning statistics, there are many applets found on the Internet that help students learn
15. about many things from probability distributions to linear regression. These applets are
commonly used in introductory statistics classes, as many students benefit from using them.
Active learners ask critical questions, such as: Why do we do it this way, and not that way?
Some teachers may find these questions annoying or difficult to answer, and indeed may have
been trained to respond to such questions with hostility and contempt, designed to instill fear.
Better teachers respond eagerly to these questions, and use them to help the students deepen
their understand by examining alternative methods so the students can choose for themselves
which method they prefer. This process can result in meaningful class discussions. Talking is
the way in which students increase their understanding and command of math. Teachers
can emphasize the importance of original thinking rather than rote manipulation of formulas.
This can be done through class conversations. Teachers can give students insight as to why
they learn certain content by asking students questions such as "What purpose is served by
solving this problem?" and "why are we being asked to learn this?"
Reflective journals help students develop metacognitve skills by having them think about
their understanding. According to Pugalee, writing helps students organize their thinking
which helps them better understand mathematics. Moreover, writing in mathematics classes
helps students problem solve and improve mathematical reasoning. When students know how
to use mathematical reasoning, they are less anxious about solving problems.
However, there is still a large part of school math teaching which consists of memorization,
repetition, and mechanically performed operations. Times tables are one example, wherein
rote learning is essential to mathematics performance. When a student fails to learn the times
tables at a young age, he or she can experience math anxiety later, when all the students'
classmates can remember the tables but he or she cannot.
Children learn best when math is taught in a way that is relevant to their everyday lives.
Children enjoy experimenting. To learn mathematics in any depth, students should be
engaged in exploring, conjecturing, and thinking, as well as in rote learning of rules and
Cognitive science of mathematics
Foreign language anxiety
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