Category Archives: UoDEdushare

Maths Anxiety

Maths anxiety is very real.  Not only that, but it is very common.  During school, I would always hear people saying ‘I hate maths’ , or ‘I’m so confused’ and ‘I can’t do this.’  I was definitely one of those people, and similar to many – maths was the only subject that made me feel that way. In fact,  it is still the only subject that makes me feel this way.  In this blog, I am going to explore maths anxiety, and how we, as teachers, can work towards lifting the negative outlook many people have on maths.

What is Maths Anxiety?
Tobias and Weissbrod (1980) define maths anxiety as “the panic, helplessness, paralysis, and mental disorganisation that arises among some people when they are required to solve a mathematical problem”

Another definition given by Hembree (1990, p45) is that maths anxiety is “a general fear of contact with mathematics, including classes, homework and tests”

Personally, I prefer Hembree’s definition.  To define it myself, I would say that maths anxiety is a dread, worry and lack of confidence when it comes to anything mathematical.  This agrees with Hembree as his definition states ‘contact with mathematics’ whereas Tobias and Weissbrod suggests that maths anxiety only arises whilst solving mathematical problems.

What is Maths Anxiety Like?
Maths anxiety can cause both physical and psychological symptoms. These include:

Physical Symptoms Psychological Symptoms
·         Headaches ·         Strain on Working Memory Capacity
·         Increased Perspiration ·         Confusion
·         Muscle Spasms/ Aches from Tension ·         Inability to Concentrate
·         Shortness of Breath ·         Incoherent thinking
·         Increased Heart Rate ·         Mind Blanks
·         Digestive Problems ·         Forgets Known Formulas
·         Dizziness ·         Easily Distracted

Why do we Experience Maths Anxiety
Personally, I experience maths anxiety because of my previous knockbacks within the subject, which I spoke about in my previous blog post.  I think this will be the same for a lot of people.  Previous failures and knocks to our confidence could be a reason our performance in maths is low.  Another thing I think that causes maths anxiety is the pressure which is put onto the subject.  When I was at school, I was told I would get nowhere without maths, and if I wanted to go to University, I would definitely need Nat 5 maths and should think about Higher maths too.  I was so worried that if I didn’t do well in my exam that my future would be at risk, so I always questioned my confidence and understanding of the subject.  Another thing which has been suggested is that maths anxiety is usually linked to the teaching styles within the classroom, which is usually focused on memorisation and repetition.  Teachers who are anxious of maths themselves are likely to produce anxious learners, and over emphasise that maths approaches are ‘right-or-wrong’. (Finlayson 2014).

How do we overcome maths anxiety?
I think it is extremely important to get rid of this negative outlook many people have on maths.  From Finlayson (2014) suggesting that anxious teachers produce anxious learners, it suggests to me that if we do not overcome the anxiety, it will be a never ending circuit of anxious learners and anxious teachers.  In a step towards overcoming this, we as teachers should be encouraging children to try and try again, and not to worry about mistakes or getting things wrong.  We need to teach them that mistakes is a crucial part of learning and understanding the subject.  We should provide encouragement, motivation and support for our learners to strive into becoming confident and able mathematic students.

Tobias, S., & Weissbrod, C. (1980). Anxiety and mathematics: an update. Harvard Educational Review, 50(1), 63-70.

Hembree, R. (1990) ‘The nature, effects and relief of mathematics anxiety’, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 21, pp.33-46.

Finlayson, M. (2014). Addressing math anxiety in the classroom. Improving Schools, 17(1), 99-115.

Why I Chose Discovering Maths

When it came to choosing an elective for my second year, Discovering Mathematics was one of the options that I automatically avoided.  All I could think about was my previous experiences of Maths and ‘why would I want to put myself through that again?’.    However, after discussing the elective with someone from third year, who had actually done it themselves, my mind was changed.  They explained that the elective wasn’t about formulas or standard deviation, or any of those other horrible topics of maths, but more of the understanding of maths, why we need it and how we can use it.  I thought this would be really useful for me as a learner, as well as a teacher.

My Maths Experience
Throughout primary, I was in the top group of maths and found most of the work pretty straightforward.  The only thing that I knew I wasn’t good at was my times tables and this really knocked my confidence.  Every night me and mum would sit and practice them, over and over again.  Eventually I could see myself improving, which helped my confidence within the subject.
Then came secondary school, where my confidence and ability in maths took a drop.  Preparing for my N5’s, I remember dreading a Tuesday morning; double maths first thing.  I was still in the ‘top group’ and our class was moving at an extremely quick pace.  During class examples, I would still be processing the question we had been asked and the rest of the class would be shouting out answers.  I never contributed to these discussions, I knew I would get it wrong! In the end, I got a tutor to try and help me pass.  It was going well, and my confidence was growing the more we practiced.  About 3 weeks before the exam, I was packing up after a session with my tutor feeling good about my ability.  She however, explained to my mum and I, how worried she was about me, and that I should speak to the school about getting a calculator for the NON-calculator exam!! I completely freaked out, if she thinks I need a calculator for the non-calc exam then I have no chance in passing!  I just gave up at that point and gave up trying, it completely knocked my confidence.

Thankfully, the exam paper was good to me and I managed to get a good grade.  I dropped maths after N5, so I have never been able to rebuild my confidence. Through this elective, I am hoping to regain some of the confidence that I lost and also increase my knowledge and understanding of maths.  I need to work towards this as to teach a subject, I need to know it myself.   I definitely regret dropping maths as soon as I could, as I feel as though my knowledge of, even basic maths, has taken a hit from this choice.

BBC Article – Hartsdown Academy School Uniform

After reading this article, I would have to agree that the Head Teacher of this school has taken the issue of ‘inappropriate uniform’ far too far.

I fully understand why a school would wish to keep their uniform guidelines tight, however in this case, I think the pupils are being treated unfairly.  Uniforms create a sense of unity, and in general, makes the image of the school a lot smarter and professional.  In the video which is included in the article, you can hear the father of a pupil speaking to the head, and stating that his daughter’s shoes are ‘perfectly, black, normal, everyday shoes’.  I feel like the Head Teacher is marking his position, making it clear to all pupils that he has the final say.  The girl’s shoes, from what I could see from the images on the article, are in fact, perfectly black shoes, and I don’t see any problem with them.

I feel that I can relate to the frustration of both the parents and pupils.  At my school, we didn’t actually have a uniform – we could wear whatever we liked.  I personally think this is better than uniforms as it gives pupils the freedom of choice, and also the opportunity to express themselves.  However, in my last year, a new head teacher arrived and cranked up the focus on clothing.  What frustrated me, was that we had never been told about a dress code.  During my whole 6 years of education, there was no written rules as to what you could and could not wear. All of a sudden, I was getting stopped in the corridor and told off for wearing sandals on a hot summers day, which to me, seemed crazy!  It also frustrated me, that it was generally girls getting told off rather than boys.  Boys were allowed to leave the PE department in their shorts when it was nice weather out, however if girls attempted to leave the department, they were quickly turned back to the changing rooms to ‘cover themselves’.  Having been spoken to, several times about my choices of clothing, be it sandals, or my stomach being slightly on show, I felt picked on. The clothes that I was wearing was not inappropriate, yet I was being told it was the wrong thing and that it was ‘against the dress code’.  The dress code being non-existent apart from inside the head teachers head…

Fair enough, have a dress code, have a uniform, but there has to be some sort of flexibility regarding these.  Some pupils don’t always have the money to be able to buy the most appropriate items to match their uniform guidelines.  If the code says black shoes, and the pupil is wearing black shoes, they should not be denied their education.