Stamping out maths anxiety

Meeting the needs of budding mathematicians by stamping out maths anxiety in the early years.

Mathematics for many of us begins a mysterious series of symbols and squiggles. For some of us, this mystery develops into a career or passion, and for others it may become a source of stress and embarrassment that we battle with throughout our lives.

We have all heard adults complain that, ‘I was never any good at maths when I was a kid’ or ‘I found maths hard so I gave up as soon as I could’.  Alarmingly, Math anxiety has now been recorded in students as young as five years old (Ramirez, et al, 2013). This issue must be addressed in the early learning years, when students understanding of mathematics begins.

Some students can remember numbers and symbols better than others. Anxiety may arise when a student notices that others are understanding or memorising numbers and symbols easily, whilst it makes no sense to them. This is where it is important for teachers to cater for students varying learning needs, adapting lessons and teaching various number sense strategies.

Jo Boaler, a Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University, states that “in addition to memorisation of maths facts, Maths is best learned through also including the use of numbers in different ways and situations to enable a deeper understanding of numbers, and the ways they relate to each other” (Boaler, 2015).

In my classroom, I strive to create a positive environment attempting to prevent anxiety towards mathematics. My job as a teacher is to provide the students with a learning environment where they can enjoy lessons and in turn flourish.  To meet the needs of young mathematicians I believe the following is required:

  • Make mathematics fun – play games!
  • Provide a safe learning environment where every student has the opportunity to freely ask questions, make observations and share their answers without fear of embarrassment or failure.
  • Provide student with real life situations where mathematical skill are imperative giving purpose to the tasks and learning.
  • Place emphasis on both accuracy and the strategy used.
  • Encourage students to develop their own efficient strategies as well as those taught to them.
  • Encourage students to provide evidence or poof their answers are correct.
  • Provide students with opportunities to build, make, act or draw to assist finding solutions to problems.
  • Encourage a growth mindset towards maths – Instead of students thinking or saying ‘I cannot do this’ encourage students to think ‘I cannot do this yet’.

As an early years teacher, it is also imperative to educate parents on the role they should play in their child’s mathematics journey. Parents can help foster their children’s attitudes towards Mathematics by simply speaking positively about it and using day to day activities as opportunities to learn for example encouraging the student to work out the change required when paying for a coffee or the newspaper.

It is our responsibility as adults to foster positive attitudes and varied learning strategies towards mathematics from an early age.

Let us all work together to stamp out maths anxiety, making it a thing of the past.

Mr Luke Russell

Year 2 Teacher

Boaler, J. (2015). Fluency Without Fear: Research Evidence on the Best Ways to Learn Math Facts. Youcubed at Stanford University.

Ramirez, G., Gunderson, E., Levine, S., and Beilock, S. (2013). Math Anxiety, Working Memory and Math Achievement in Early Elementary School. Journal of Cognition and Development. 14 (2): 187–202.

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