Math Anxiety: Finding a Better Way to Learn

Math Anxiety: Finding a Better Way to Learn

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Anxious Math Student
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Have you ever experienced crippling math anxiety?

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

Have you ever felt that it was too late to learn math? That you were down for the count?

I once had a student who literally trembled every time she tried to do math. When I asked her why, she told me that in her early years she had a teacher who would hit students if they got the wrong answer. This example is extreme, but even without the hitting, fear of getting a wrong answer in front of the class and being ridiculed is very real.

Many students we work with in the JFYNet programs initially fear that they will never be comfortable with math. Before the education reform movements that led to MCAS and other state proficiency tests, well-behaved students could graduate from high school without much math knowledge. But high school graduation is no longer sufficient. The labor market has come to require post-secondary education, and today’s testing regimens for high school graduation and college placement make admission into credit-bearing courses unlikely without a fundamental grounding in math. Students who become mired in remedial college classes have a slim chance of obtaining a degree. With the exploding growth of technology, students also need math skills for many careers. In this second decade of universal high school testing, educators are calling for all students to raise their math skills. The influential advocacy group Achieve, Inc. has called for all high school graduates to be proficient in math through at least Algebra II.

Many students who suffer math anxiety find that learning math by computer is a great solution. What you know or don’t know is between you and the computer. At JFYNetWorks, we individualize learning programs for each student according to their assessed skill levels. When I teach, I tell students that math is like building a house. You can’t put the roof on without the walls and foundation. That’s where individualized learning programs come in. The software flags wrong answers, identifies skill gaps and loops the student back to the appropriate instruction. For example, in a lesson on slope, a student can apply the formula in a variety of ways. If she is weak on subtracting signed numbers, she will get a wrong answer no matter how she applies the formula. She might think the problem is in the formula, but the software will tell her that she subtracted signed numbers incorrectly. She can then go back and review signed numbers. If the software is adaptive, it will automatically place her where she needs to be.

That’s why blended learning is the practical solution for closing achievement gaps in our diverse schools. Students can start where they need to, learn at their own individualized pace without fear of embarrassment at getting wrong answers, and refresh any skill they find lacking all the way back to whole numbers. As one long-suffering student who finally mastered slope attested, “It’s a better way of learning.”

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