Math Anxiety has a History
Many students feel anxious about learning math. In the last international assessment, 23% of American students reported that they feel helpless when doing math problems (PISA). This is not new news. Math anxiety has been an issue for decades.
In the 1950s, math educator, Mary Fides Gough introduced the term mathemaphobia. In the 1970s, psychologists developed a way to measure math anxiety called the Math Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS). Students who score high on this scale are called HMA (Highly Math Anxious).
Anticipation is Worse
Recent research sheds light on helping HMA students learn math. Education researchers,wrote an article, They showed that students who have high math anxiety feel worse when anticipating doing math compared to how they feel when doing math problems. The dread of math problems is worse than the stress of doing them.
Math Anxiety starts as an emotional issue that could be triggered by missing math class and getting behind. However, this anxiety leads to problems in understanding. This then leads to more anxiety and the student is caught in a loop. How can they escape this anxiety?
Heal the Anxiety
One way is to arrange for a tutor or teacher who can help them deal with their anxiety. Such educators try to understand your child’s thought process and reinforce what the student is doing right. Focusing on the positive encourages student confidence in what they do know. Anxious students can improve their confidence and understanding with support from parents, teachers, and tutors. This investment in time and effort can give a student rise above their anxiety enough to learn and enjoy mathematics.
One of my new Problem Solving students burst into tears the first time the students did a timed test. During the test, I reassured her that it was fine if she didn’t get any problems right. She saw that she wasn’t punished in that non-graded class and started to relax. With reassurance of what she was doing right, her confidence grew during the year. By the end of the year, you couldn’t tell if she was uncomfortable with tests. Later, her mother told me that the student’s confidence extended to other tests when I wasn’t around.