How to Build a Positive Attitude to Math
While brain research has shown us that almost everyone can grow their number sense and become “great at math,” it has also proven that math fear – independent of ability – can make even the simplest math operations challenging. In short, the attitude that one brings to math is just as important as one’s number sense. Listen to what experts like Stan Dehaene and Ian Bellock have to say about the powerful, and perhaps surprising, connection between emotion and mathematics below:
“[H]igh-level mathematics departs radically from its popular portrayal as a dryly rational discipline, dominated by sheer deductive power, on which emotions have no bearing. Quite the contrary, the most potent of human emotions – love, hope, pain or despair – hold sway over the relationship these mathematicians entertain with their number friends. When there is a passion for mathematics, talent does not lag very far behind. If, conversely, a child develops math anxiety, this phobia can prevent even the simplest of mathematical concepts from falling into place.”
– Stan Dehaene, chapter 6, The Number Sense
“Instead of feeling anxious about an impending math task, students who could focus their attention were able to complete difficult math problems more successfully. Perhaps counter-intuitively, their success wasn’t just about activating areas of the brain involved in math calculation. For math-anxious individuals to succeed, they need to focus on controlling their emotions” (emphasis added).
– Ian Bellock, “Brain study reveals how successful students overcome math anxiety”
Resources to help build a positive attitude to math
COPING STRATEGIES FOR MATH ANXIETY
Mindfulness – The first step in overcoming anxiety of any kind is to learn how to relax and focus. Practicing Mindfulness and other forms of meditation has been proven to reduce anxiety and help with attention.
Strategies for Reducing Math Anxiety – from Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Lists strategies for teachers (pp. 2-4), parents (p. 5) and students (pp. 5-6).
Strategies to Cope with Math Anxiety – from Texas State University Counseling Center: “Math anxiety is a learned psychological response to math, which interferes with a student’s ability to perform math. It is not a reflection of a student’s true ability in math. There are a number of strategies a student can use to overcome the anxiety response. Some of the primary strategies are described here.” This resource also looks at myths about math ability.
Tips for Coping with Math Anxiety – Created for students at Austin Community College. Good list of tips for controlling math anxiety on p. 13. These workshop materials are in a PDF format, so they can be easily printed.
Advice for Coping with Math Anxiety – Describes some causes of mathematics phobia and provides advice on overcoming it.
Mathpower Tips – Tips on how to reduce math anxiety. Created by a teacher for her classroom.
INFORMAL DIAGNOSTIC ASSESSMENT OF MATH ANXIETY
Math Study Skills: Diagnostic Inventory – This online assessment can help students maximize their math achievement by examining the ways they study math. It suggests ways to improve based on their score.
MATH ANXIETY BILL OF RIGHTS FOR THE CLASSROOM
Math Anxiety Bill of Rights – A great tool for classroom use, to empower students and restore their confidence in their ability to do math. It can be adapted for different ages.
CHECKLIST TO HELP OVERCOME MATH ANXIETY
Math Anxiety Reduction Checklist – Teachers can use this checklist before an exam to make sure students are well prepared. Older students can walk through the checklist themselves.