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For some, the fear of Mathematics is as real as the fear of spiders. The condition of Maths anxiety can range from general distress and mental inefficiency to complete panic and physical anxiety when faced with a mathematical problem. For many learners, Maths anxiety results in a cycle of failure because increased worry results in decreased success.
But why do some learners develop this absolute fear of Mathematics? The most common causes of Maths anxiety lie in the hands of the three main players in this game:
Most adults who suffered from a fear of Maths tend to share, and maybe overshare, that feeling and perception of the subject with their children. The effect of this behaviour is the same as any other behavioural patterns of a parent: Their children will associate with it, copy it and proudly label it as a family characteristic.
The second cause of Maths anxiety is often a Maths teacher with a military, time-limiting approach to teaching. Most of us can remember a Maths teacher who stood in front of you, staring in your eyes while demanding the answer of 7 times 8. Of course, many numbers come to mind then, except 56. These teachers create the association of urgency, stress and death-defying accuracy with the subject Mathematics.
The third cause often lies with the inherent personality of the child. Children who feel insecure and shy in a class environment can feel immense pressure in a Maths classroom. Here they are forced to either collaborate with other children, ask the teacher for help or even worse, give answers in front of the whole class. This fear of public humiliation is one of the cornerstones of Maths anxiety.
Now that you have a better understanding of the causes of this anxiety, how can you, as a teacher, help your learners? There are many ways to do so:
1 – Start by analysing your approach to Mathematics. Are you one of the teachers instilling fear into your learners’ hearts? Focus on being approachable and creating a calm classroom environment.
2 – Try to create the perception with your learners that Mathematics is just another game, like Monopoly or soccer. All games normally share three components: rules, winners and the power of practice. Those three components are also the basis of the Mathematics game.
3 – We have our own symbols, theorems, and formulae in the game of Mathematics – just like the rules of any other game. Make sure your learners know the rules well. (If you can’t think of any rules, there are always the ever-so-popular multiplication tables).
4 – There is always a winner in Mathematics. If you get a sum correct, then you are the winner! The more you win, the more you will. Start with easier questions to ensure that your learners can win the game.
5 – The saying practice makes perfect is a cliché for a reason. With Mathematics (just like any other game) it’s important to practise. Consider educational software programs like Cami Maths to help your learners practise their skills.
6 – Focus on the fun moments when doing Maths and use your sense of humour. Don’t add 2 apples and 3 apples – add 2 pink unicorns and 3 pink unicorns. Whatever you as a teacher know would change the moment to a giggle or even just a smile.
7 – As a Maths teacher, you know that one skill builds on another. If the learner does not master key skills she is going to struggle further down the road, which is going to cause more anxiety. That’s why learners need to study at a pace that works for them. With Cami Maths learners can study at their own pace. The educational software adapts to the learner’s increasing understanding, so they gradually encounter more difficult mathematical concepts.
8 – Don’t publicly punish a learner for a poor Maths result. The fear of public humiliation is one of the cornerstones of Maths anxiety and will only cause the learner more anxiety. Instead, help the learner to prepare for a Maths test by making sure he knows the rules and he practises the “game”. When he gets his results, focus on the number of “games” he won, i.e. how many sums were correct?
9 – Reflect on past achievements/areas that need work. Coaches reflect on games to focus on strengths and weaknesses. So, do the same with your learners’ Maths test. See where they went wrong and what they could have done differently. Cami Maths provides educators with detailed feedback on a learner’s progress. This makes it easy to see where learners need more practice.
10 – Keep in mind, though, that just like in any other sport it’s normal for players to feel some form of anxiety before playing the game, but it should be a positive form of anxiety and not a paralysing, negative form of anxiety.
Promoting the analogy between Mathematics and any game has proven very successful in dealing with Maths anxiety. It can help your learners see Mathematics as just another game and remove the anxiety attached to the subject.
Written by Anne-Marie Reed – Learning Analyst at Optimi