Math: How we Teach in the Classroom Matters

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



4 responses to “Math: How we Teach in the Classroom Matters”

  1. Joanne James Roark Avatar
    Joanne James Roark

    can’t get in to the read more about…..?


  2. R.C. Glymph Avatar

    If improving outcomes for students is the desired results, school districts must change the way they teach students mathematics. Every teacher who has completed an accredited teacher education program in the United States knows that the instructional approaches used in most school districts are not effective. This is because the over-all goal is to create A, B, C, D and F students. All of the research on learning tells us that students learn best in cooperative settings where student are allowed to peer tutor and scaffold one another. These types of learning experiences are kept to a minimum in most school districts. Every student and every teacher is in constant competition rather than working together to make sure that everyone learns.

    The Math Maze©™ game has put a new look on the old “basics,” strengthening players’ foundation math skills while they are having fun together, which also helps meet the need for more positive social interaction between students. They’re talking to each other, sharing solution ideas, gaining confidence and competence, and having a good time practicing the mathematics foundation skills they need to succeed in advanced mathematics.

    For years researchers have identified several factors – peer tutoring, scaffolding and engagement – that increase the likelihood that students will perform better in mathematics. Yet these factors have not resulted in increasing proficiency. Preliminary research on Math Maze was completed years ago. It creates engagement, introduces concepts and reinforces them, and forces practice in a collaborative, cooperative environment where students are peer-tutored and scaffolded. It is scalable to a level that most technologies are not. This game uses these identified factors in a very different way. For instance, the use of peer tutors implies that one student is good enough at math to show another student how to do it. What is implied, but not spoken, is that the peer tutor is the smart one and the one being tutored is not. This game is a teaching tool that uses this idea in a very different way. All players, whether proficient in math or not, will have the opportunity to tutor each other. In other words, all of the players are tutors and this is structured into the game.

    As all players watch the one who is tasked with solving the problem, the cards used to solve the problem are visible to everyone and each player can contribute their solutions. This means that each player can see what the possibilities are and help the tasked player identify them. This process also meets the definition of scaffolding. All players help each other improve the computational skills, because they offer help without singling out one person as a failure or loser. All of the players are talking, computing, and laughing and they all feel that they can do the math. This is peer tutoring that defies hierarchy and builds self-esteem. Scaffolding that is intentionally helpful with engagement and camaraderie that builds support could just be the elements missing from the learning picture.

    For lay people unfamiliar with some of that educational jargon, the bottom line is that Math Maze works. Students, parents, and educators get caught up in the fun. Students get the math practice they need without boring paper exercises. Those who struggle with math literally light up during game play because there is no risk of having to feel embarrassed. Everyone sees everybody’s cards; everyone helps everyone find creative answers. There are no losers in practice games, which is the main purpose of the game —practicing math skills.

    It’s about time we re-think how we continue to invest time and money in our quest to find the right educational tool to advance mathematics proficiency.

    For more information, contact Mr. Glymph at (310) 697-3177

    Improving attitudes and engagement in mathematics using the Maze Math Game System(RTM)
    by Glymph, Ronald C., M.A., CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, DOMINGUEZ HILLS, 2010, 46 pages; 1489982


  3. ECE is Vital Avatar
    ECE is Vital

    Reblogged this on ECE is Vital.


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