A study published yesterday in the journal Cerebral Cortex suggests some potential treatments for math anxiety. See the Education Week blog.
In prior research, the author Sian L. Beilock found that just the thought of doing math problems can trigger stress responses in people with math anxiety, and adult teachers can pass their trepidation about math on to their students.
One of the earliest posts on this blog was on Handling Math Phobia. This subject is worth revisiting.
The study released yesterday shows that students who are anxious about math yet perform well have a high activity in the frontal and parietal regions of the brain when they learn a math problem is coming up. Interestingly, these are not “the areas of the brain associated with calculating numbers, but those associated with cognitive control, focus, and regulating negative emotions.” These students who attempted math problems got “83 percent of the problems correct, nearly the same as the 88 percent accuracy of students with low math anxiety.” Those students who were anxious about math yet did not show a high activity in the frontal and parietal regions of the brain only answered 68 percent of the math questions correctly.
The findings should demonstrate the importance of teaching our kids techniques for dealing with fear. The ongoing teaching process needs to take place in the classroom, as well as in the home, and requires vigorous effort. There is nothing passive about it.
A behavior modification technique for overcoming fear is called implosion. For example, if you are afraid of snakes, sitting in a room full of them will help you overcome that fear. A designer I knew who was afraid of flying took a class in skydiving to overcome her fear. The point here is that fear needs to be dealt with aggressively.
There are gentler, though just as vigorous, ways to deal with math phobia.
Humor is a technique for overcoming fear, and it is used throughout the Elevated Math lessons. Keeping math fun in another. This should be a mantra for the classroom. Try to find something in each day’s lessons that the kids can really enjoy. This should be an ongoing part of lesson planning.
Helping students see math problems as opportunities, as challenges that can be overcome, is another.
Finding the source of fear in a child and removing it is paramount. It might take some time and might be as if you are digging a boulder out of the ground, but you can’t just leave it there.
Is the child afraid of making a mistake? Then let him know that we all make mistakes and we learn from them. Share a time when you made a huge mistake or share the one that Leonardo DiVinci made. Once he was commissioned by a patron to prepare a dinner for 200 guests. He designed a special oven to cook the food, a conveyor belt system to prepare the plates, and a sprinkler system in case of fire. There was a fire. The conveyor belt failed, and the sprinkler system went off ruining the meal for 200 guests.
If you can teach your kids to overcome fear of math, you will help them learn to overcome other fears as they move forward through life. Learning to deal with fear is of utmost importance. Yesterday’s article confirmed this.
2 thoughts on “Treatments for Math Anxiety”
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Good post. I completely agree. You hit the nail right on the head.