Have you ever found yourself stressed out thinking, “Please don’t judge me right now?” I remember having this thought when I was trying to buy groceries with my two young children. It was very stressful trying to teach them how to behave in a grocery store, until someone suggested teaching them in a pretend situation. Before this awesome suggestion, I was definitely responding to stress, which is the fight-or-flight negotiation. My decisions were different than they could have been in a calm, cool, and collected state of mind. Many students will have this same response in dealing with mathematics at some point.
According to an article from Science News for Students, it explains that researchers have found “anxiety steals away working-memory resources.” This means that stress uses up resources that could be required to work through logical contexts like mathematics or dealing with young children. The same article also states:
Research shows, simply dealing with the anxiety can improve math performance. That suggests that anxiety alone can sabotage math performance, regardless of someone’s skills,.
There are many factors which can cause math stress, but no matter the cause, the key is to find a way to reduce stress so that learning can take place.
How to Reduce Math Stress
There are several methods that help reduce math-related stress.
1) Consider Learning Gaps
Math is the only subject that you cannot begin in the middle. For instance, division relies on multiplication and subtraction skills, and multiplication relies on addition. A learning gap in addition, subtraction, or multiplication makes division very challenging to understand. This does not mean that your student is incapable of learning more complex math concepts; it does mean, however, that it is important master key concepts before moving forward. If you find that you have moved on, and your child needs more practice with a concept, take the time review and learn it and then progress to the next one.
2) Changing Your Mindset
Changing one’s mindset can also reduce stress. A reason that many people perform poorly in math, is because they believe or have been told that they are not good at it. Developing a growth mindset can reverse the effects of a fixed mind-set. The fixed mind-set says, “I am not good at math now, so I will never be good at math.” A growth mindset celebrates learning of any kind, at any time. I am grateful for the wisdom of my teachers, who recognized my learning needs and helped me develop a growth mindset. As a junior in high school, I did not know much about fractions or decimals. My teachers encouraged me to persevere and keep trying, Finally, I understood the concepts and was able to pass Calculus III two years later. If I had refused to try and had backed down, I would not be a math teacher today.
3) Changing Pace
Sometimes simply changing the pace and slowing down can be helpful. Making sure that your student has time to master the topic at hand is critical in mathematics. Since one topic will build on previous topics, take whatever amount of time is needed to master a concept before moving on. This will vary from student to student and topic to topic.
4) Consider Taking a Math Break
If a student is already stressed, try taking a math break. Sometimes a 5-minute break, is helpful to recover the mental resources that stress tries to steal. At other times it may be good to take a break from math or at least the current math topic. Reviewing topics that your student once found difficult, but is now confident in completing can remind them that they can conquer this concept too.
5) Change Things Up
Another way to reduce stress is to change things up. Change the routine. Change the environment. Have someone else explain it. All of these provide a different atmosphere for your student, and can be enough for them to recover and complete the work.
6) Try a Simulation
One final thought is that when your student is on the cusp of mastery, but you feel they need a little more support, try a simulation. Provide something that is true to life for them that requires them to use their math skills. Make the practice a game. Let them figure out the grocery bill before going to the store, or build a birdhouse. Let them use their math tools and knowledge to put what they know into practice. These projects may bring up new questions of math they will learn later, but it is good for them to see that the skills they are learning have real applications.
In the end, when your child learns something new, take time to celebrate. This will encourage lifelong learning, and will prove more helpful than any math lesson alone.
Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.