Out of all the legacies that your child inherits, the most common and perhaps the least wanted is the fear of mathematics. According to the renowned American academic, Mark H. Ashcraft, math anxiety can be described as “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance”.
Ashcraft also believes that highly anxious math students avoid situations that require them to perform mathematical calculations. This in turn means less competency, exposure, and math practice, which results in a reluctance to take math courses and a general feeling of resentment.
Math anxiety is a very common phenomenon and can be noticed by people of all ages. A person with symptoms of math anxiety can get unusually agitated, have an increased heart rate, clammy hands, upset stomach, and lightheadedness.
It can also manifest physically as a sore tummy, fatigue, headache, and lack of motivation. The causes of this can range from a fear of being wrong to parents’ negative predispositions and pressure from timed tests or poor grades.
Fortunately, for parents and teachers, here are some evidence-based tips that can help your child if he/she exhibits any symptoms of math anxiety –
1. Game-based learning platforms
In the recent past, the education sector has metamorphosed to welcome technology and innovation in its processes. Game-based learning is an outcome of this and has made learning fun and interactive for students.
Students have seemed to enjoy this method of learning, while teachers experience increased engagement in the virtual classroom.
These platforms help impart knowledge through curriculum-aligned games that strengthen the fundamentals of any subject. The best part is that students won’t know they’re being assessed or doing homework — it’s all part of the adventure.
2. Use mixed-ability grouping
Through this method, peers with different abilities are grouped together to encourage students with higher math abilities to think more deeply and devise alternative solutions to help those who find the subject challenging.
On the other hand, grouping students according to their abilities — i.e., high with high and low with low – can adversely impact students in lower groups.
This not just increases their struggles with the subject but also reinforces their negative perception of math and limits exposure to the curriculum.
3. Make Math fun
Teachers that use games to teach math have seen improved engagement rates amongst students. These games are unique ways of boosting morale and confidence which further helps students improve their skills.
According to a US-based non-profit organisation called 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.”
4. Positive reinforcement
A few words of encouragement can have an unparalleled positive impact on a child. A study in the Journal of Emerging Investigators, exploring the effects of positive and negative reinforcement on students, suggests that positive reinforcement can yield higher grades.
Researchers also found that students who received positive reinforcement had significantly lower heart rates when solving problems.
So, instead of punishments, teachers and parents might want to motivate kids through rewards to help them improve learning and academic success.
5. Get a tutor
One-on-one tutoring sessions have proved to help remedy highly math-anxious kids. Various studies over time have shown that regular math tutoring has helped in higher reductions in mathematics anxiety.
6. Encourage understanding not memorisation
Data published by PISA in 2012 suggests that out of 13 million students, the lowest-achieving ones were those who used memorisation strategies.
No doubt memorisation is valuable, but emphasising that it is the only way to do math is problematic. This rigid mindset will eventually produce a generation of students who are competent but cannot think outside of the box.
7. Practice mindfulness
In 2013, cognitive psychologist Tad T. Brunyé published a study in Learning and Individual Differences focusing on how breathing techniques affected math anxiety.
The study showed that when highly math-anxious students practiced mindful breathing exercises, they reported feelings of more calmness and also performed well in timed tests.
Math anxiety affects individuals well into adulthood. As time passes by, schools will continue to struggle with widespread underachievement – a reality that has both short and long-term implications. However, using research-backed tips, parents/teachers can help children overcome math anxiety.
–Article by Mahalakshmi Satish, Director India, Prodigy Education.
Read: 8 math tricks that will blow your mind!
Read: 3 simple tips to improve your handwriting