Published at Friday, 10 May 2019. math worksheet. By Elayna Maurice.
Until recently, scientists and educators thought that math anxiety first appears when children begin to learn complicated mathematics (such as algebra). This would mean that young children (who do not yet do complicated math) do not experience math anxiety. However, recent research has shown that some children as young as 6 years old say that they feel anxious about math. A team of researchers asked 154 children in grades 1 and 2 questions like, “how do you feel when taking a big test in your math class?”  The children had to indicate how nervous they felt by pointing to a position on a scale, ranging from a very nervous face on the left to a calm face on the right. (See Figure 1 for a picture of the scale.) After answering these questions, the children took a math test that measured their math abilities. These researchers found that almost half of the children who participated in the study said that they were at least somewhat nervous about doing math . Also, children with higher math anxiety got worse scores on the math test. This research tells us that math anxiety and the relationship between math anxiety and math ability develops when children are very young.
One of the main goals of understanding what causes math anxiety and how math anxiety affects the brain is to find ways to help people with math anxiety and ultimately to prevent it from happening. Some researchers have created tools to help people with math anxiety. These tools are called interventions. A tool or program that is given to people with the goal of helping them improve or get better at a skill. For example, researchers have made interventions based on research showing that writing down thoughts and feelings beforehand can make people feel less nervous when taking tests. Researchers thought that if children wrote down their thoughts and feelings, those feelings would not occupy working memory while the children were completing a math test. So, the researchers did an intervention where they asked children with math anxiety to write about their math-related worries. These researchers found that, when students wrote about their math-related worries, their math test scores improved. A different group of researchers showed that if college students with math anxiety did some breathing exercises to calm them down before a math test, they felt more calm and their scores on the test improved. Together, these intervention studies provide scientific evidence for ways that we can help people with math anxiety. This research is very promising because it tells us that people with math anxiety can be helped—they are not stuck with math anxiety for life.
While working memory is an important component of succeeding in math, resetting how we think about math is also necessary. If kids think that math isn’t for them — either you get it or you don’t, and they don’t — they aren’t going to feel hopeful or even motivated about learning. This way of thinking about math has parallels to psychologist Carol Dweck’s research on the different mindsets that people have when it comes to learning things.
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