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Matific: Solving the problem of maths anxiety

OpinionPrimary Education
By Heather McLean | 12 May 2017
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Create DateMay 12, 2017
Last UpdatedMay 12, 2017

By Brent Hughes, teacher educator, Matific.

We have all grown to recognise the important changes required of the new primary maths curriculum. Teachers are having to adapt from teaching individual mathematical skills to ‘maths mastery’; using the knowledge a student has, and being able to apply it to the necessary question. It’s about knowing how to manipulate numbers effectively rather than just quickly.

Research over the years has confirmed that the pressure of timed tests, quick-fire questions and the associated risk of embarrassment has long been recognised as sources of negative tension among many students.

Fear of maths

Maths anxiety is defined as feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic situations [Tobias, S., 1993]. Maths anxiety is a major cause of children losing their self confidence and developing a real fear of maths.

In my experience of working with primary maths teachers in schools, there are two main reasons for the onset of maths anxiety: teaching practice, and adults sharing their maths anxiety.

I believe that in primary education, in particular, technology is the route to delivering maths in a fun, games-based, problem solving learning environment. This allows children to build up their confidence in a relaxed setting, and where getting something wrong is perfectly acceptable. Technology doesn’t have to set time limits and can make the tasks relatable to students’ everyday lives.

Love numbers

So, here are my top seven pieces of advice for ensuring children learn to love the manipulation of numbers:

Firstly, teaching methods must be re-examined with an increasing emphasis on experimenting, testing and accepting that getting something wrong is part of the learning journey. Incorrect responses should be handled in a positive way to encourage student participation and enhance resilience.

Work with parents to ensure they recognise comments or actions that can spread their fear of maths to their child.

Many common games are based on math concepts. Battleships, hangman and many card games all require calculations. By using these common objects in ordinary settings that children can connect to, a deeper understanding of maths can be achieved.

Use lots of pictures to demonstrate concepts. Children will master mathematical concepts and skills more readily if they are presented first in concrete, pictorial and symbols.

Most children are comfortable using technology and playing games on their mobile devices. Technology is the ultimate way to deliver a problem-solving route to getting children to see maths as fun.

Limit group work to a small number of students; maybe four or five. With any more than this there will always be one child left behind and excluded from the problem solving challenge.

Teachers not only need to readdress the way they teach maths at primary level to comply with the new curriculum; they must also re-examine traditional teaching methods to avoid this increasing notion of maths anxiety. Delivering maths through an edtech platform that uses images encourages them to make informed ‘guesses’ and make it fun when the answer isn’t exactly right, can instil a joy of mathematics that could remain with them throughout the rest of their lives.

Matific takes a unique approach to teaching maths using hands-on and interactive mini-games, called episodes. These immersive bite-sized apps for tablets and personal computers are based on a modular and progressive spiral learning system.


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