Is Maths Anxiety a Thing?
Did you hate maths at school? Do you feel you “can’t do maths?” You may not be alone.
Recently researchers claimed that “Maths Anxiety” is real. One in 10 children suffer from despair and rage when faced with the subject, according to new research from Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education and its Centre for Neuroscience. Click here to read more…..
Could this be just another made up term to excuse poor attainment or could working with numbers really be a cause of exceptional unhappiness for children?
As a tutor, I have certainly come across lots of students who ‘hate’ maths. Some of them seem to have genuine problems with remembering and manipulating numbers. Many of them, however, do seem to make remarkable progress when they realise they can do maths after all.
Stress or anxiety about any subject is obviously an impediment to learning. Is maths so different? I suspect people learn to like or dislike maths for the same reasons. When you are leaning maths the answers you give are either right or they are wrong, unlike other subjects perhaps, so if you are getting it wrong the feedback is rather immediate. If students fear failure or ‘getting it wrong’ it could make early negative experiences particularly unpleasant and overwhelming. So, for example, finding fractions difficult in primary school may lead to enough wrong answers and unhappiness to convince some children that maths is something they ‘can’t do.’
I always say that maths is like a house, you have to build the foundation first, before you build the walls. If students have switched off at some point in their school careers, then they have not built a firm foundation. All the maths they are taught after that will become much harder because they have not learned the basic skills, such as times tables or place value. This can lead to students getting very stuck unless they find a way to fill in the gaps.
This is a serious problem as STEM (science technology engineering and maths) careers rely on high levels of maths fluency and attract higher than average salaries.
Learning anything while being anxious is not helpful. Increased levels of anxiety use up working memory and stop learning from taking place. Most people find it much harder to remember appointments if they have an exceptionally stressed day at home or the office.
As a tutor, I always give students work that they can do (i.e. easy enough for them but not too easy) so that they get most of their answers right. When they begin to feel relaxed, I can then start introducing new topics strengthening their weaker areas.
In addition, learning times table by rote, may seem old fashioned, but it makes maths so much easier. Try reading a new language when you don’t know all the alphabet and have to look them up each time. Much slower and much less fluent. We try to do activities, such as lots of number bonds and tables, that don’t require much working memory and are highly repetitive.
The third approach is to change the mindset of anxious learners. Maths is actually a subject that requires a lot of practice and repetition, but if people put in the hours almost everyone can improve. A bit like jogging, everyone can do it, rather than fine art when you need a high level innate skill. So rather than having a ‘fixed mindset’, i.e. some people can do maths and some people just can’t; students need to adopt a ‘growth mindset’ i.e. “I can do it if I try.”
Finally, parents can make maths more fun by putting away the study books and getting out some games. Card games and dice games (yes the dreaded Monopoly) can make numbers relevant and fun. At a younger age, using blocks such as lego can help with number, fractions, counting and shapes. The abacus is an ancient tool which is still helpful today.
Learning to Love Maths
Anxiety about maths is certainly a problem for many people, but it can be overcome. The more people worry about it, the bigger it can grow. Sometimes a few deep breathes and a chance to express themselves, then reframe these fears, can make a big difference.
Many people have found that when they have come back to maths learning later in life they have actually enjoyed it! Making maths fun can be a good way for both fearful parents and children to help each other overcome anxiety.
Simply complete our form to book your FREE assessment.Complete the form now