5 Reasons Why You (or your students) Might Have Math Anxiety
Updated: Nov 19, 2021
What is the first thought that pops into your head when you think of learning multiplication? I know for me, I think of the dreaded timed tests. You get one minute to solve as many problems as you can to move on to the next “level” or multiplication skill. Half of the time your focus is on solving the problems, the other half of the time you are panicking about how much time you have left or who has finished before you. While I could go on and on about how ineffective timed tests are for learning mathematics, they are just one example of why so many people have math anxiety. Did you know that research shows that 93% of adults have some level of math anxiety while 1 in 5 adults report they have severe math anxiety? While these people might not describe themselves as “math people”, math anxiety is much more than that. Symptoms of math anxiety are an increase in heart rate, clammy hands, upset stomach, and lightheadedness. I know when I had to take those timed tests, this was 100% me. So, what makes someone have math anxiety? Here are five possible causes:
1. The way math is taught
Timed tests, algorithms, and repetition oh my! This is how many of us were taught math in school. We sat and watched a teacher explain one specific algorithm to solve a problem. I never had someone explain to me other strategies, or why it mattered. Often students don’t have a growth mindset towards math because they are told there is only one right answer and aren’t always given the skills to find a strategy that works best for them. Many adults are even afraid of not solving a math problem correctly or they will be ridiculed.
2. Being taught that there were “math people”
Time and time again I hear from students and parents that their child isn’t succeeding in math because they are not “math people”. I remember being told as a kid that I was more artistic and that a certain side of my brain determined how successful I would be in an advanced math class. My biggest pet peeve is calling someone a “math person”. This is the only subject that people claim this! What if someone claimed they just weren’t a “reading person” and refused to read, or they weren’t a “science person” and refused to learn any science? We would probably look at them a little funny. Math is for EVERYONE.
3. Your teacher was not familiar with or comfortable teaching math
Teachers, just like any other adult, may have hidden math bias or anxiety. If a teacher does not enjoy math or has anxiety around it, they are not as likely to convey to their students how fun math can be. They also might not feel comfortable teaching students multiple strategies to solve different problems if they do not truly understand the mathematical concepts themselves.
4. You have an undiagnosed math learning disability
Many times at the elementary level, the main focus is reading. While learning to read is a very important and essential skill, most teachers solely focus on reading disabilities. Dyscalculia affects approximately 1-6% of the population and 3-7% of all children. Just like other learning disabilities, students might need very specific accommodations and interventions to help them in the math classroom. An undiagnosed math learning disability could certainly cause stress and anxiety while learning math.
5. Stereotyping certain people as better than others
My one best friend is a successful engineer and I remember one of the first things she told me while getting her doctorate was how few females were in her program as her. Why is this? Research shows time and time again that females are less likely to go into different STEM fields. This is due to the fact that math and science are often seen as male domains. If you already think that others are just naturally gifted with the ability to complete certain subjects, this could cause anxiety.
So how can we help students LOVE math instead of having anxiety about it? Change the above. Math anxiety is the reason why I started Doodles and Digits. My students were always shocked when I openly told them my least favorite subject was math! How did their math teacher hate math?! I explained how I was taught math, and why I teach it a different way. My goal at Doodles and Digits is to give teachers, parents, and students the tools they need to not only be successful in solving math problems but to love doing so. Many times math is visually dull, and not creative. Feel free to check out my Teacher Pay Teachers store for resources!