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November 22, 2014

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A Teacher’s View:

Fight math anxiety by playing to students’ strengths

I recently read an alarming statistic that suggested that as many as 75 percent of students suffer from some degree of math anxiety.

Math anxiety can range from simple avoidance of math homework to nervous reactions that manifest themselves in stomach aches and blanking minds.

When discussing a student's math performance during parent conferences, I often hear parents tell me how they perceive themselves as poor mathematicians, and they're not surprised that their child is, too.

If you have had a bad math experiences in school at one time or another that has caused you to believe that you are just no good at math, you are in good company. Personally, I still get butterflies when I think about standing in front of my fifth grade classmates having to race through long division problems at the blackboard.

Obviously something needs to be done about this. It saddens me to think how many students may have avoided higher level math and science classes because they perceive themselves as weak in this area.

To battle math anxiety, as parents and teachers, we need to do more than infuse our students with a "math is fun" attitude.

The first thing is to try to find the cause of their anxiety. Many students are simply afraid of giving a wrong answer in front of their peers or siblings.

Having the student explain the strategy they used to solve a problem often results in them discovering their own mistake and allows them the opportunity to self-correct, which can build their confidence in their math aptitude.

Sometimes primary students are pushed too quickly into using mathematical symbols before they have a strong conceptual understanding of the math process. Using math symbols is a very abstract concept for young children to grasp. Perhaps they simply need more time manipulating materials such as blocks, tiles or counters to reinforce their concrete understanding of the concept.

Students have different learning styles. Traditionally math has been taught in a linear fashion, learning a sequence of procedures to arrive at an answer.

When math is only taught from this approach, the "wholistic learner" could reasonably perceive themselves as a poor math student.

It might be beneficial to explore what type of learner your child is. There are many books and articles online relating to Howard Gardener's extensive research on multiple intelligences.

It is important for all students to develop different learning modalities, but perhaps we can combat math anxiety by introducing and reinforcing math concepts by building on the student's strengths.

The point is to understand where these math fears come from and to use teaching strategies that can build on the strengths of our students. Most importantly, parents and teachers need to help our students understand that initial difficulty with math is not a sign of low intelligence and help them build the confidence they need to fight math anxiety.

Cathy Estes is a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Vanderburg Elementary School. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074 or editor@hbcpub.com.

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