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30 August 2018

Taking stress out of the equation: helping students with maths anxiety

‘I hate maths’, ‘I’m never going to understand this’, ‘what’s the point?’ Statements like this could be indicative of maths anxiety.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) broadly defines maths anxiety as, “Feelings of concern, tension or nervousness that are experienced in combination with maths”.

Maths anxiety is beginning to come under the microscope in Australia and New Zealand, as international school testing shows both countries are falling behind when it comes to students’ performance in maths. ACER estimates 20 per cent of Australians have maths anxiety.

ACER explains that maths anxiety often causes students’ performance in the subject to deteriorate as they begin to avoid maths wherever they can, are disinterested in class, and only learn at the surface level. As these students associate maths with negative and stressful emotions, this flows on to the students’ later lives as they are likely to choose careers that don’t involve maths, limiting their future prospects.

Conversely, if students enjoy maths – or any subject for that matter – they are often motivated to try harder, and because of their extra effort, they generally achieve better results.

Kumon’s Maths Programme is designed to help students overcome, or even prevent, maths anxiety because students spend as long as they need to master a particular topic. This helps show students the world of numbers is accessible to anyone.

Below are four helpful tips on how to show students that anyone can do maths:

1. Praise each small success and any extra effort

Learning maths can be an emotionally complex environment for children. To prevent them from growing anxious at the thought of numbers they should be guided and encouraged through their studies, praised for each small success or for any extra effort they may put in.

This boosts students’ confidence and shows them they won’t be judged if they don’t grasp the concept immediately, that each failure is a learning opportunity they can use to get the answer right.

“Watch for specific signs of progress and praise and encourage your children.” – Toru Kumon

2. Show how maths is relevant to everyday life.

Let’s be honest, certain maths concepts can seem pretty abstract at first glance. Teachers, parents and Kumon Instructors everywhere have heard many students ask, ‘When am I actually going to use this?’

Well, connecting maths to what happens in everyday life often helps. For example, when grocery shopping with their children, parents could also ask their child to work out how much the total cost will be prior to checkout. This involve students using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, but also percentages, when working out how sales and discounts impact the final cost, and fractions, when estimating the cost of items that are priced per kilo.

By doing this you show children that they can do maths as they use it every day. It also gives you the chance to have some fun with your kids as you work out such problems together, helping them to show children that maths doesn’t have to be boring and esoteric but, in fact, can be fun and practical.

“A young child’s mind is full of curiosity. By skilfully giving the appropriate giving the appropriate stimuli to children, their curiosity and inquisitiveness will be activated and they will [learn] many things.” – Toru Kumon

3. Ditch the idea that some people aren’t naturally good at maths

With the right amount, and type, of practise anyone can be good at maths. This is an especially important message for girls as international research has shown that girls can be far more anxious about maths than boys.

It’s also important that parents and educators consider their own attitudes towards maths and how they voice them, as they influence children’s thoughts and feelings towards the subject.

“Children’s abilities are a result of nurturing; they are not fixed by nature.” – Toru Kumon

4. Build skills gradually, step-by-step

As all concepts in maths are interrelated, skills must be built up step-by-step. Unfortunately students are too often forced to rush ahead to keep up with their peers, meaning they lose their footing because they don’t have the foundation they need to properly comprehend more complex topics.

A systemised, small step approach, like the Kumon Maths Programme, allows students to master a topic before they move onto the next; they master division before moving onto fractions, nail fractions and decimals before moving onto algebra. This prevents students from getting lost and shows them, clearly, how to do well in maths.

“Equations, factorisation, trigonometric functions, differential calculus, and integral calculus, cannot be performed without a complete understanding of the basic calculations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions.” – Toru Kumon

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