Or perhaps I should now say “math used to make me nervous.” Throughout my summer and my dabbling in the realm of mathematics, I have come to (somewhat) conquer my fear of math. I have learned that “Math Anxiety” is a very really issue for many people. I have done a little bit of research in the last few weeks regarding this concept. First I would like to begin by explaining exactly what math anxiety is for all of you math-lovers out there:
Math Anxiety: a phenomenon that is often considered when examining students’ problems in mathematics. Mark H. Ashcraft defines math anxiety as “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance” (2002, p. 1).
This “phenomenon” is something that all math teachers will eventually have to deal with. Yep, I said it. We will ALL have to deal with it at some time or another. Many students are fearful of math. It can be quite intimidating. I found an online test and took it to see if I had math anxiety at the beginning of the summer. Sure enough, I did. Granted, not all of the questions applied to me, but even envisioning myself going to the board in math class made me feel slightly faint. I hate being put on the spot, and I was always afraid when I was younger that I would get the question wrong and people would think I was stupid. In fact, I have said many times that I’m “math stupid.”
I’m putting this all out there because I think this is something that children should never be made to feel. As educators it is our job to not only teach the material, but to do so in a way that empowers our students, not degrades them. Because of this, I have put together a small list of things that I think all math teachers should do to help students overcome any fear of math they might have (regardless of the degree of anxiety):
1. Have a positive attitude! This seems pretty self-explanatory to me–be upbeat about what you are teaching!
2. Make it a game. Use games to teach concepts. This helps to take the pressure off of students. It makes it fun!
3. Try not to put anyone on the spot. I know as teachers it is sometimes tempting to call on someone who never raises a hand to volunteer an answer. I’ve been there. I’ve (unfortunately) done that. What I’ve found though, is that those students are usually the ones who suffer from math anxiety the most. They need to be helped, not embarrassed.
4. Offer extra help. This might sound obvious, but sometimes all it takes is a little bit of extra help with certain concepts to help students understand.
5. Work through problems as an entire class. Am I saying that every problem should be worked out together as a large group? Nope. Absolutely not. I am, however, saying that at least one or two problems should be worked out before turning students loose. It is also helpful to do one or two as a class, then allow students to do one or two in small groups (pairs perhaps), and then finally ask them to work individually so you can see who is struggling with the concept and help them out!
This list of helpful hints (at least I hope you find them helpful) is something that I try to keep in mind anytime I enter a math class. I KNOW what it is like to be that student who dreads math class, hates math entirely, and uses my calculator for everything. I try to make it my goal to never make any of my students feel the way that I felt growing up.
Let me know if you have any tips or tricks that you use in your own classrooms for helping students through math anxiety! I’d love to add to my little list!