Dealing with Math Anxiety
Math anxiety and "math phobia" afflicts many students nationwide. It may have a number of root causes, but it makes for unpleasant experiences with mathematics. Typically students with "math phobia" have partial understanding of mathematical content, which can lead to enhanced anxiety. Most of these students over-rely on memorization of procedures, rules, and routines. They may feel like math "doesn't make sense," seems "disconnected," and that there is "only one right way to get an answer." When students realize that they have forgotten a procedure, they may begin to feel panicked.
The good news is that math anxiety can be curable, or at least reduced!
Develop Growth Mindset and Productive Struggle
Work to overcome negative thinking. Avoid defeatist thoughts, like, "I can't do this." Instead, show that it's okay to make mistakes and revise thinking. We learn from what we do, and we are constantly improving!
Build Off What You Know
Look for the "easy" problems first. What made them easy? Can you use what you know about the "easy" problems to solve some of the trickier problems?
Work to Understand the Why
Is your process and/or answer reasonable? Use math models and pictures to help you understand. Over-reliance on memory and rote procedures may break down without consistent practice. Instead, think about how you can model the situation to check to make certain an answer makes sense.
Yes, fluency is important. Students should be able to compute answers using efficient strategies that do not consume all of their mental energy. However, overemphasizing speed can cause additional stress and worry for students.
Speak Positively About Math
Use math vocabulary when appropriate (e.g. "oh, that puzzle piece doesn't fit? What will happen if we rotate it?") and never say you weren't good at math or that it makes you anxious (even if you weren't successful as a student). It is okay to admit that a problem looks "tricky" or "challenging." Instead of modeling how to give up, model how to tackle it: say that you can figure out the problem together, and employ some of the strategies above (e.g. making connections, using a model, etc.).
Make Connections to Math in Everyday Life... and ESTIMATE!
As you are measuring ingredients to bake cookies, weighing fruit at the grocery store, estimating the cost of gas as you pump, or counting out items in groups, involve your child! Find ways to incorporate math into your regular conversations. In particular, show how you estimate and reason about quantities. This will help students develop number sense, and deemphasize always using a procedure to get the "right answer."
Consider taking Stanford's free "How to Learn Math - For Students" Online Course (EDUC115N)
Stanford offers a wonderful -- and free! -- self-paced, online course for math learners of all ages. The course was developed by Stanford mathematician and founder of YouCubed.org, Jo Boaler. The "course" includes six 20-minute lessons broken down into two categories: The Brain and Math Learning and Strategies for Success. There are lots of videos and some questions for reflection.
-J. Laib, 2015
The Fear of Math: Five Strategies to Help Students Conquer their Math Anxiety, by Leah Shaffer
published in the Spring 2015 edition of Scholastic Instructor Magazine
**this article features Driscoll's math specialist, Jenna Laib
Math Curse or Math Anxiety, by Vanessa B. Stuart
published in the January 2000 edition of NCTM's Teaching Children Mathematics
How to Get Reluctant Students to Embrace Math, by Mari-Jane Williams
published in the Washington Post on March 5, 2014
Parents' Math Anxiety Can Undermine Children's Math Achievement, from research out of the University of Chicago, published in ScienceDaily on August 10, 2015. From research by Maloney, Ramirez, Gunderson, Levin and Block published in Psychological Science.
*An important article for math anxious parents! Positive mathematical interactions are a must. Read the article, and feel free to talk to one of Driscoll's Math Specialists: Jenna Laib or TBA.
Interested in continuing the conversation about math anxiety? Talk to Jenna Laib, math specialist, or your child's classroom teacher!