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In my teaching career of almost 22 years, I have often met students who were intrinsically fearful of Maths. The subject terrified them, gave them anxiety attacks and destroyed their self-esteem. This fear seems to be quite widespread in adults too, including Parents and Teachers.
It is a matter of concern that till the grade 4, students seem to love and enjoy Maths but as soon as they enter the world of abstract concepts like fractions, decimals, percentages, confusion sets in and they feel more and more helpless in succeeding in the subject. Added to that are incidents of continuous lack of success in solving Maths problems accompanied by poor guidance from teachers and intense competition in a classroom, this actually diminishes the self-confidence of the students.
Students with Mathematics anxiety feel negative emotions when engaging in an activity that requires numerical or math skills. In one of the studies carried out by researchers, when college students were informed that they would be asked to take a math test, it triggered a stress response in students with high math anxiety.
What actually happens when a students is anxious about performance in Maths is that the emotion of fear impairs the logical thinking and problem solving skills. The amygdala which is the emotional centre of the brain, first processes the information when taking in a problem and then prioritizes information going to the prefrontal cortex, which focuses on critical thinking. When a student gets anxious, there is more activity in the amygdala than the prefrontal cortex and this reduces his ability to remember, analyse and respond accurately. It is almost as if all the brain activity gets centred on worrying instead of cognitive processing.
How can we help our children to deal with this anxiety and excel in their Mathematical ability?
The first step towards this is to help them to improve their concentration and focus. Early introduction to Pranayam or simple yoga practices can help students in this direction. Research has proven that regular practice of Transcendental Meditation improves brain functioning and developing a positive attitude towards problem solving.
Secondly the pedagogical approaches in Mathematics have to move away from memorizing procedures, rules and routines and focus on conceptual understanding thorough activities and projects. Finding mathematics in simple magic tricks can improve the students’ interest and focus. Drawing relevance from real life connections is absolutely essential. Students should be taken from the simple to the complex, encouraged to ask questions and the teachers need to underemphasize mistakes and instead help them to learn through their mistakes. Supplying them with correct answers without allowing them to explore is NOT a great practice.
Self-introspection skills have to be inculcated enabling students to actually discuss their fears and figure out the causes of their anxiety.
Regular practice or rigour is extremely important for constant reinforcement of the concepts and this can be achieved in an engaging way through online interactive Maths programmes like Mindspark.