What is the most terrifying thing you can think? Common answers may include spiders, heights or horror movies, but what about mathematics? Many professionals such as Boaler (2009) believes that children find maths fearful. Why is this? Is that just the way it is to be? are people just meant to be afraid of numbers? Or are we doing something wrong?
Maths anxiety comes in many forms and is experienced differently by each person suffering what could be described widespread epidemic. Arem (2010) believes that maths anxiety can cause headaches, sweating, confusion and the inability to concentrate.
So why does this maths anxiety exist?
Many professionals such as Hembree (1990) believes that maths anxiety is defined as a general fear of mathematics. Why is this allowed to occur? If children experienced this feeling whilst studying any other curricular area it would be pandemonium. So why is little being done to help children overcome this widespread epidemic in schools ? Furthermore, the Scottish government (2009) believe that the most common form of mathematical activity in the classroom is based on pupils using textbooks and working in silence and independently (Scottish Government, 2009). To this day I still remember the feeling of working from textbooks and not for the right reasons, it is the most mind numbing soul-destroying type of work I have ever done. I believe it is our responsibility as teachers to help children develop the notion that maths is fun , enjoyable and most importantly something they are comfortable and good at tackling.
I recently stubbled across a poem that I believe represents what the communication of mathematics is like for some people.
The two dead boys
- One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight,
3. Back to back they faced each other,
4. Drew their swords and shot each other,
5. One was blind and the other couldn’t, see
6. So they chose a dummy for a referee.
7. A blind man went to see fair play,
8. A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”
9. A paralysed donkey passing by,
10. Kicked the blind man in the eye,
11. Knocked him through a nine inch wall,
12. Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,
13. A deaf policeman heard the noise,
14. And came to arrest the two dead boys
15. If you don’t believe this story’s true,
16. Ask the blind man he saw it too!
Whilst this poem is purposely meant to be contradictory. I believe this is how some people see the learning of mathematics. For example, I remember as a child being told that when I multiply by 10 I simply add a zero to my answer. However I was extremely puzzled as to why 1.4 x 10 does not equal 1.40, even though I had been told specifically all I had to do was add a zero. Obviously, I soon learned that when multiplying by ten I move the decimal point one space to the right and when dividing I move it to the left. That’s no big deal to someone who enjoyed learning mathematics. I understand we learn from our mistakes, but for someone who already has negative associations with maths and finds it confusing it adds additional stress and furthers their negative attitude.
Moreover the understanding of mathematics is crucial Erickson (2008) believes that as conceptual understanding decreases pupils begin to lose interest in maths . So what is conceptual understanding and how do we allow pupils to obtain this ? conceptual understanding is defined by Ben-Hur, (2006) as a knowledge rich understanding . Therefore it is important that as teachers we ensure that our pupils develop a conceptual understanding of mathematics which will then hopefully enable them to enjoy mathematics and study maths progressively throughout there school career.
To whoever is reading this blog. I usually end my blog posts with a conclusion as to what I will do next to progress, However one of the main points I have taken from the discovering mathematics module is that it is not what I am going to do next but more what we can do next. Everyone is learning and developing as professionals and if everyone works together to ensure a pleasant and enjoyable experience for pupils whilst studying maths and every subject for this matter then pupils will enjoy coming to school and maths anxiety will cease to exist. I believe this to also be an important message to leave for pupils. It is not what I will do as a future teacher to help my pupils overcome maths anxiety but what we all can do to help each other in our learning.
Arem, C. (2010). Conquering math anxiety. Australia: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.
Ben-Hur, M. (2006). Concept-rich mathematics instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Boaler, J. (2009). The elephant in the classroom. London: Souvenir.
Scottish Government (2009) 2008 Scottish Survey of Achievement: Mathematics and Core Skills. Available online at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/04/02133043/0 [Accessed 3rd September 2015
Hembree, R. (1990) ‘The nature, effects and relief of mathematics anxiety’, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 21, pp.33-46
Metafilter.com. (2018). Two dead boys got up to fight. [online] Available at: https://www.metafilter.com/51472/Two-dead-boys-got-up-to-fight [Accessed 1