Our personal schemas about math greatly impacts how we feel about math and ultimately how we will perform in math.
From the time we are born, we are impacted by the attitudes and beliefs of those around us. The effects of nurture that shape our schemas of how the world works, also shapes what we believe, how we feel, and how we perform in math.
Can you imagine the far reaching effects of math anxiety on our economy? How does society cope with copious amounts of people avoiding jobs that include math? How can we change this? First, we will look at what math is, what causes math anxiety, and where we can focus our efforts into the future.
What is math?
Math is actually a whole schema of thinking. A schema that goes much deeper than the numbers that are assigned to things in our world.
According to Geist (2011), there is a serious dichotomy between a child’s own mathematical thinking compared to that which a teacher imposes in the classroom. How a teacher approaches mathematics instruction also impacts math anxiety in children.
What does happen in the classroom that is so different from natural mathematical thinking processes?
The following are just some of the ways that anxiety becomes built into math:
- We associating math with boring work.
- The work students do in class is not related to daily life.
- We believe that if we enjoy math, then we are not learning math
- We rely heavily on cultivating memory through rote tasks
- Mad minute and other bell work activities reinforce the idea that math needs to be done quickly and correctly
- We treat students as if they have the same ability in math
- We assume that there are not preferred ways of learning math, and pace of working
- We believe that girls achieve due to hard work and boys achieve due to talent
The approaches listed above then creates an environment and a mindset that math is a high risk activity. Math therefore becomes a source of deep anxiety for many students.
The research points toward girls being particularly affected by these practices and mindsets. Further, the research also shows that environmental variables change the results of math scores of children from lower income families.
We need new strategies. We need to be sensitive to the different needs of girls and boys. The fact is that every child learns differently and responds to different types of instructional approaches.
What we can do:
- Move away from focusing on being correct, and move toward understanding the overarching concept
- Promote understanding of math concepts over speed
- Foster a learning environment that allows for critical thinking processes over rote memorization
- Implement developmentally appropriate approaches for our students vs timed bell work
- Seek out the strategies that we know do not increase math anxiety.
What strategies do you use that promote critical thinking and conceptual thinking of math in developmentally appropriate ways?
Geist, E. (2011). The Anti-Anxiety Curriculum: Combating Math Anxiety in the Classroom. Journal of Instructional Psychology, Vol. 37, No. 1
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