When I was young, every summer, my mother would sit me and my sister down to learn the math concepts for the upcoming school year. Math time at our house wasn't always a calm time. There were definitely some tears, and, I'm sure, it was like pulling teeth for my mother.
Beyond us not really wanting to do math during summer vacation, there was also a fear of getting these new math concepts and problems wrong — in other words, math anxiety.
The next thing I know, I'm in fourth grade and I didn't get into the advanced math class by one point and I was fighting to get in. My math anxiety drove that competitiveness; I couldn’t, for whatever reason, not get into the class. I pushed to get ahead of my peers, learning the advanced math concepts even when I couldn’t make it into the advanced math classes in middle school.
I ended up with a computer science major, a math major and a minor in philosophy, but I still had that experience with math anxiety. I didn’t realize what it was, though, until it was explained to me.
From there, I could see how it affected me and how it affects others every day. Over the last two years, I’ve examined math anxiety, particularly how it impacts children’s understanding of basic math concepts. When used correctly, the Elephant Learning app — along with parental involvement — can effectively help your child overcome their math anxiety.
Do you think your child may deal with math anxiety? I get many questions about the causes, symptoms and solutions to math anxiety. Read on for some of my answers.
The first step in addressing math anxiety is to recognize what it looks like in the first place. When you and your child sit down to do their math homework at night, do they experience any of the following?
Are they coming home with poor test grades? When your child does get a math problem right, does it seem like they’re just guessing or reciting an answer?
Another good indicator of your child’s level of math anxiety is how they deal with a word problem. If you ask them a word problem and they don’t understand the question, this may be an indicator of math anxiety.
Try this exercise: grab a handful of the LEGOs that have four dots on top. Ask your child to give you five of those blocks and tell you how many dots there are in all. If your child counts to get the answer, do not worry; let them come up with the answer.
Ask them next: “What is 4 times 5?” This may help them connect the concept of multiplication to the memorized times tables. However, if you try any exercise like this and find your student counting, it typically indicates they have a gap in understanding the concepts and would be prone to developing math anxiety.
Questions like the above can help you determine if your child has a gap in understanding. Math Matters has a quiz at different student levels to help determine if your child has any gaps in understanding. Take the Math Matters assessment to identify your child’s current math level.
Help your child combat math anxiety by filling in the gap in understanding. Start giving your child math experiences by incorporating concepts into real-world situations. This will increase his or her confidence when they approach new, harder concepts.
This is exactly what Elephant Learning does. The entire system was built to remove math anxiety and facilitate the learning of mathematics. The app’s games are educational on their own, but if your child gets stuck, the app provides you with a series of questions to ask, which almost always gets your child over their hurdle.
Once you’ve filled the gap in understanding, the narrative of “I’m not good at math” will no longer reflect reality, and you may find increased confidence. It is important to understand the story and help children understand that it is not reality. How Do I Prevent My Child From Having Math Anxiety in the Future?
There are a few things you can do to keep math anxiety at bay in the future:
This is exactly what the Elephant Learning app does, too. It explains how it’s teaching the subject and why, then breaks the topic down further into milestones. Parents can find activities to do with their child outside of the system that teach the same concepts, so the child receives more exposure to a concept to learn it faster.
Make no mistake. Math anxiety can and does affect the course of your life. The wife of a friend said to me, "I wanted to get a degree in physics, but it was all differential equations, so I became an English major."
When she was a child, that's what she wanted to do; she wanted to be a physicist, but she gave that up because of math anxiety.
The reality is, there’s no such thing as a “not a math person.” Whether it’s you or your child, those who aren’t confident with mathematics are typically individuals who have math anxiety.
Regardless of how much math anxiety exists in your household, remember: there is a solution.
Math anxiety — a fear of getting math concepts and problems wrong and the resulting avoidance of math because of that — is something I’ve seen many times over my life and not just in children. It’s just as prevalent in adults and, believe it or not, despite my PhD in math, I experienced math anxiety as a child, too. While some children allowed their math anxiety to grow into a lifelong avoidance of math, mine fueled my competitive spirit and led me to push ahead of my peers, learning advanced math concepts even when I wasn’t able to get into the advanced math classes my middle school offered.
It is never too late to understand math. At a young age, many of us had the experience of being told that “we are just not a numbers person.” Books have been written on this social phenomena, and half of all Americans report Math anxiety. As it turns out, mathematics is really about learning jargon, a jargon that is so fundamental to humanity that we consider it vocabulary.
At the end of the day, algebra comes down to these three steps: define, recognize and produce. No matter if your child is in middle school or a PhD math program, it’s all about defining (can you understand it?), recognizing (can you identify it?), and producing (can you use it to produce results or new research?). If you can help your child with these three aspects of algebra at home, they’ll be better set up for success in the classroom and the future.
Most students learn to multiply in school by memorizing their multiplication tables. There’s nothing wrong with memorizing multiplication tables, but a child must know what the multiplication tables mean. If they’re multiplying seven by six, they need to have that picture in the back of their head of six groups of seven or seven groups of six. If not, they don’t have a true understanding of what multiplication actually is and it won’t serve them later on in life.Take, for example, a child who knows that five times four is 20. She can solve the multiplication problem with ease.
In early elementary education, the first concepts that we work with are counting and comparisons — that is, quantity comparisons versus what's bigger and smaller. We might show a child an image of four objects and an image with 12 objects, and ask them to identify which has more or fewer. It's important for children to know the difference because it sets the stage for addition and subtraction.
Making math fun for your child within the confines of your everyday world is easy. Let’s say you’re walking down the sidewalk with your child and they say, “Oh, there’s a train.” That’s an opportunity for you to ask how many train cars they can see. How many engines are on the train? Even if it’s just their toys sitting out on the floor, you could ask them, “Can you give me three toy dogs right now?” Then your child has to identify what’s a dog, what’s not a dog and how many of them equal three.Take whatever your child can identify and formulate a math lesson that’s on their level.