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Eliminate The ‘Fear of Math’ Through Simple Teaching Techniques

The academic study of math anxiety originates as early as the 1950s, where famous mathematician Mary Fides Gough introduced the term ‘mathemaphobia’ to describe the phobia-like feelings towards the subject.

Maths is considered fun and challenging, however for many children the concept of math can lead to fear and stress. Some children are anxious about getting an answer right without understanding the question. The children who fear maths are usually frustrated, that leads to disapproval for the subject. Children start hating math when they don’t master the skill at the foundational level. Some of this can be traced to the pedagogy – where students are incentivised to rote learn and teachers are measured on “finishing the syllabus”.  

The academic study of math anxiety originates as early as the 1950s, where famous mathematician Mary Fides Gough introduced the term ‘mathemaphobia’ to describe the phobia-like feelings towards the subject. It is of paramount importance that children learn with an understanding through a personalised approach that will enable them to gain a strong foundation since every child has their own way of learning, which is commonly ignored by teachers and parents. This will also help to conquer any 21st Century demands on the types of skills and adaptability that may be required.  

There are some techniques that can help children in learning with understanding. Here are a few tips and steps that will help teachers create a 'hook' to engage their students and help them overcome their challenges: 

  1. Being data-wise: While creating a lesson plan, the educators may benefit from analysis of past student tests. This will help them by understanding the misconceptions of students, common wrong answers, student’s explanation of why they picked a particular choice and published research on the topic. Educators may need to use different sets of examples and analogies in their teaching approach to ensure the students don’t develop any misconceptions. There are different scenarios where children get confused in solving problems – for example:  

  • Scenario 1: Students form a misconception that triangles are triangles when they are in a particular orientation (typically like a 2D pyramid). Hence, while teaching basic shapes, the teacher could give examples of multiple triangles in different orientations to avoid this misconception from forming in the students’ minds. 

  • Scenario 2: Students sometimes get confused when dealing with fractions and often add the numerator and denominator separately while calculating the sum of fractions. Intuitively, when solving the problem of adding ½ + ½ students can arrive at the answer of one using the logic that two halves make one. However, due to the common misconception, some students end up getting the result as 2/4 when they simply add the numerator and denominator separately.  

  • Scenario 3: It is a general misconception among students that if a shape is modified in such a way that the area of the shape decreases, then the perimeter of the shape will also decrease. This is not always true. To clear this common misconception, the educators need to use relevant examples and help the students practice solving problems with variations in areas and perimeters and encourage them to explain their observations when solving such problems. 

  1. Self-reflection in learning:- Teachers can recommend that students verify their answer by substituting different values and checking if the answer is a reasonably good estimate and making sense in the given context. Generally, students tend to solve a question and move on to the next problem. Reflections and verification is an important step in learning, shifting things from short term memory to long term memory. 

For example, consider the following problem- "I have some toffees. I gave half of my toffees to 3 of my friends equally. If each of them got 4 toffees, how many do I have in the beginning?" 

Once the student solves the problem, they should be encouraged to substitute their answer in the given context to see if it is making sense. In the above example, if a student’s answer is 12, he should then check half of 12 which is 6 and when 6 toffees are given to 3 friends equally, each will get only 2 toffees and not 4. So, he will know that his answer is incorrect.  

Teachers need to ensure that this step of verification is done for all the problems that are being solved by the students to inculcate the habit of verifying in the students. This will also help them not make “silly mistakes” and getting answers wrong.  

  1. Help make connections:- By showcasing the usefulness of the problem to real-life situations, there could be a greater interest among students in the mathematical topic.  

  1. Encourage Explorations:- Educators should help the students discover mathematics on their own by enabling them to solve problems effectively. 

The teachers could choose to act as a facilitator who chooses appropriate problems to guide the students and allow them to think independently and at times collaboratively. For example, the students could be encouraged to discover the formula for solving the area of a rectangle on their own. 

With respect to deriving the formula of area of a rectangle, following are the potential problems the teachers can pose to help students figure it out on their own using logic and understanding of the concept. 

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A child will connect this with his previous knowledge of multiplication of whole numbers and the area of a shape being the same as the sum of the areas of tiles covering the shape. 

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What is the area of the rectangle? ____ sq cm 

  1. Bridging the Gaps:- The educators could understand the learning gaps and misconceptions of students and modify their teaching process accordingly. Most of the student response data suggest that the students nurture misconceptions over time which comes in the way of their learning. 

For example, students of class 7 of English-medium private school say that only shapes with straight sides have area or only shapes 1 and 2 in the figure below have area. 

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While there are multiple misconceptions about children who under-perform in the subject, it is important that teachers and parents change their outlook and help them towards combating math. There are many instances where children lose confidence in other subjects because of this anxiety. Teachers and parents should identify the gaps and address at the foundational level that can help children to overcome their challenges as well as benefit them to learn the essential life skills that make them logical thinkers.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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