Dealing with Maths Anxiety

I remember the feeling… Palms sweaty, heart racing, stomach fluttering…. Trying not to seem bothered and praying it would be over soon. No – I’m not talking about going on a roller coaster.. I’m talking about how I used to feel during every single Maths lesson.

An estimated 2 million children deal with ‘Maths Anxiety’ on a regular basis. It’s not just at primary level either. This feeling can carry on all the way to secondary and beyond.

Moreover, I was always under the impression that I just wasn’t a ‘Maths person’. I was much more engaged in English. I relished the fact that there were different interpretations, room to explore and layers of meaning just waiting to be discovered. With maths, it felt more like a chore. Rules, methods and results.

Afterwards, I began to switch off from Maths and eventually I was struggling with most Maths lessons. I understood the topics, I could answer the questions but I still had the echoes of a former teacher in my head “some people just aren’t great at Maths” ringing in my head every time the teacher asked the class an answer.

I made it to my GCSE Maths exam, and burst into tears as soon as I opened the paper.

After my exam had finished I vowed never to study Maths again. This didn’t end up being the case but 16-year-old me was adamant that was the last time I would feel that way.

This BBC writer shares a similar experience here. “In 2012, for instance, brain scans of children in America aged seven-to-nine found that those who feel particularly anxious about maths not only show greater activity in….the amygdalae regions, which normally deal with threat. This is thought to reduce short-term working memory, meaning the children found it harder to concentrate and think about the sums at hand. One interpretation is that the anxiety itself is choking their ability to perform the sums.”

“Whatever its origins, once the seed of the fear takes root, it may grow by itself: the more anxious you feel, the worse you perform, the more you shy away from maths and the more you worry when you face it again. And the psychologists suggest it may have serious consequences.”

Reading this article resonates Looking back, I feel really sad about how disengaged I was with Maths. As a teacher now, I know I’m perfectly capable of engaging with Maths now. I went back and studied it some more, and realised I can be a ‘Maths person’. However at the age of 16, I was left with some serious Maths Anxiety which hasn’t completely gone away.

I reached out to @MathsJem for a little information on the subject and she very kindly directed me to her blog, which covers the topic of Maths anxiety not in students but in teachers! It provides a really insightful perspective on the ongoing challenges which teachers with Maths anxiety can face.

This line in particular made me feel a little bit better about some of my mistakes on the whiteboard in maths class! “It’s good for students to see a real person doing real maths, and making mistakes in the same way they do. It will probably make them feel better about their own anxieties.”- Jo Morgan (@mathsjem). You can find Ms Morgan’s excellent website, here.

Here’s some tips our team has put together to help with dealing with ‘Maths Anxiety’ for parents in particular although I’m sure many can be applied to pupils in a classroom setting too.

Do you have any tips you can share?

Sarah is a primary school teacher. She blogs for SATs Companion and enjoys reading and drinking copious amounts of tea.

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