What is math anxiety?
Math anxiety is a phenomenon that is often considered when examining students’ problems in mathematics. Mark H. Ashcraft, Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, defines math anxiety as “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear [of math]…”
Research confirms that pressure of timed tests and risk of public embarrassment have long been recognized as sources of unproductive tension among many students. Marilyn Curtain-Phillips, M. Ed. explains in The Causes and Prevention of Math Anxiety, “Three practices that are a regular part of the traditional mathematics classroom and cause great anxiety in many students are imposed authority, public exposure and time deadlines. Although these are a regular part of the traditional mathematics classroom cause great deal of anxiety.”
Much of this anxiety also happens in the traditional classroom due to the lack of consideration of students’ different learning styles. And, the anxiety often translates into poor math performance.
In fact, according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), math scores slipped for fourth and eighth graders over the last two years. And, only 1/3 of the nation’s eighth-graders scored in the proficient or above range in math.
The “normal” math track has shifted down
30 years ago, the normal track was for students to take Algebra I in ninth grade, followed by three years of college-prep math. This worked well for most students, and there was always a way for a select group of students to get ahead by taking algebra in eighth grade and advance to Calculus by their senior year.
But in the past ten years, there has been an explosion of students taking algebra in the eighth grade… and earlier. The “normal” track in many schools is now for most students to take algebra in the eighth grade.
Too much, too fast?
Dr. Jerry Brodkey has a Ph.D. from Stanford in Mathematics and Curriculum Education and has been teaching math for over 30 years. He urges caution to parents when selecting math courses for students. “When a student is pushed to take a class for which he is not ready, he rarely acquires a lifelong affinity for math. Instead, he develops a desire to get out of math classes as fast as possible.”
Building a strong math foundation: How parents can help at home this summer
- Make sure that your child understands the concepts, rather than just memorizing meaningless rules (using fractions when cutting a pie is just one example).
- Review math vocabulary to ensure that your student can define the skills he’s learning.
- Computing math problems in your child’s head will reinforce concepts more quickly than using a calculator (have him calculate the tip at a restaurant, or add up the cost of items in the grocery cart).
- Explain how math applies to real-life situations. Math is much more interesting if your child can understand its real world value. (how much money does a 30% off sale really save?)
- Drills and flash cards are quick ways to solidify basic math facts.
Math is the universal language. Make sure that your child speaks fluently!
What can a parent do if these strategies still don’t help? Back to Basics Learning Dynamics in Wilmington, Delaware offers 1-on-1 math tutoring at all levels.
And, summer is the perfect time to build and strengthen mathematics skills for the upcoming school year. Students work 1-on-1 with an experienced instructor to review and learn concepts and create fun ways to remember them.
Each session is tailored to the individual child to meet his or her needs, interests, level of background knowledge and learning style. Previous school years’ material is reinforced during these interactive sessions, with an eye toward next year’s concepts, as well.