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What to do About Math Anxiety

What can cause math anxiety among students?
  1. Research shows an imposing authority figure, the risk of public embarrassment, and time deadlines (e.g. the pressure of timed tests) often cause math anxiety and unproductive tension among students.
  2. Students may not see relevance for knowing mathematics in their lives.
  3. Some teachers who do not understand much about math impose fear on students to prevent them from asking questions which might expose the teacher's ignorance.
  4. Math is often related with frustration --- students make negative associations with numbers from seeing adults with unpaid bills, unforeseen debts, overdrawn checkbooks, or other money experiences.
What can be done to reduce math anxiety?
  1. Design classrooms to make students feel more successful. Students need a high level of success or a level of failure that they can tolerate. Incorrect responses must be handled in a positive way to encourage student participation and enhance student confidence.
  2. Students learn best when they are actively engaged (Spikell, 1993).  Students have different learning styles, so lessons must be presented in a variety of ways.
  3. Math must be relevant to students’ everyday lives!  To learn math, students must be engaged in exploring, conjecturing, and thinking rather than only memorizing rules and procedures.
  4. Adults need to show students how numbers are used succesfully in positive ways, such as in cooking, in sports, in music, in problem solving, home repairs, in hobbies, in investments and in savings accounts, etc.
  5. Teachers who actually understand what they are teaching tend to encourage questions from the students. Teachers must feel confident in the math being taught, and model good behavior when making mistakes, by showing a sense of humor, in showing enthusiasm, and by using real-world projects that engage student enjoyment of mathematics.
  6. Explore projects through cooperative groups to provide students with a chance to exchange ideas, to ask questions freely, to explain to one another, to clarify ideas in meaningful ways, to reexamine new approaches, and to express feelings about their learning.
Jeanne Lazzarini, RAFT Master Teacher and Activity Developer


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