Students’ Maths anxiety vs Technology

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Brent Hughes pictured with students. Source: Supplied

Are you someone who feared learning mathematics, or are your school experiences of maths looked back upon fondly? Mathematics is often a very divisive subject where people are firmly based in the “I love” or “I hate” category. However, in schools across Australia and the world beyond the “I hate” category is starting to grow, and grow rapidly.

Most adults grew up in a school environment where our understanding of a maths concept was often judged by how quickly we could answer a question. This link between speed in answering questions and maths intelligence always succeeds in accomplishing one thing. Sadly that thing happens to be ‘Maths anxiety’. Luckily there are a group of people from Matific fighting the “Maths Anxiety” phenomenon…and winning!

“Maths Anxiety” What is it?
Where does it come from?

Maths anxiety is an unfortunate reality that teachers and parents are constantly fighting. There are a few things that we can do to put our students and children in a position where they can avoid suffering maths anxiety. However, in order to battle maths anxiety, we must first know how to identify it. Often students that have maths anxiety will show signs of work avoidance during class or when completing maths homework. These same students will almost never raise their hand unless they are supremely confident that they are correct and if you happen to ask them a question, they may pretend they aren’t listening or that they don’t care.

In order to stop these sorts of behaviours there are few things that we can do.

1. Stop forcing children to memorise “the basics”
Rote memorisation of “the basics” doesn’t work and is often the cause of a lot of maths anxiety. However, even if children are able to memorise basic facts, it does not mean that they will be successful in mathematics. This practice can actually hide underlying issues that can go unidentified until high school. At which point it is often too late to do anything about it. The ability that we have as adults to “just know” that 6+5=11 is a result of all the mathematical relationships that have formed in our lives. Getting children to memorise “the basics” robs them of building these relationships which are integral to understanding mathematical concepts. Technology is a great way to engage students but too often it is used to fuel this thinking. Apps that promote memorisation are only going to work when the child first understands the concepts. Understanding and memorisation are not the same thing.

2. Teach your child “Speed ≠ Intelligence”
Maths anxiety is now reportedly being identified in children as young as 5 years old. It is my belief that this stems from an unfortunate link between speed and Mathematical intelligence. It is far more important that children understand how and why mathematical concepts work. Rather than spending time trying to remember what 4×5 is. Getting your students to engage in games like Matific that require them to apply maths concepts to new problems is far more effective than quickly saying the answer to questions they already know.

3. Make maths meaningful and fun
“When will I ever use this in real life?” might be the most commonly spoken sentence in maths classrooms around the world. Mathematics in everyday life is often missed by the general public and this has created a split between mathematics and school mathematics. If the kinds of things that you are doing in the maths classroom are engaging and realistic then students will have a much easier time relating to it. Not many adults sit down in their real life and do addition worksheets. Applying maths concepts to problems is what “real life maths” is all about. Find mathematics in the things that students do for fun. The more engaging experiences they have the more likely they are to persevere with the subject when concepts appear challenging.

4. Be positive about mathematics
“I’m not a maths person” is the worst things that an adult can say to a child with maths anxiety. If someone truly believes that they are not a maths person, they are not only horribly mistaken but they are unknowingly damaging the potential of their students. If a child looks at their teachers or parents and knows that they identify as being “not a maths person” then they will automatically have a reason to think that they too are “not a maths person”. When students make mistakes in the classroom, it can be a challenge for them in how they deal with it. When playing video games “mistakes” are far easier to handle as they are seen as being a completely normal part of the process. Students are far more likely to take risks with video games than they are in the classroom. So if these games are educational, children are all of a sudden attempting things that they wouldn’t if they were in a “traditional classroom”.

Visit the Matific website at www.matific.com.au for more information and see how technology is changing maths education in classrooms across Australia.

Brent Hughes is a former primary school teacher in Catholic Education in the Diocese of Parramatta. He is currently working as a teacher educator at Matific.