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How can you prevent math anxiety and motivate students to study math?

As a parent, do you like math?  When you were in school, did you feel math was hard, or not useful, or boring?  Did it seem to you that it didn't make sense?  Were you never good at it?  Did you not have good math teachers?  Or, was math 'only for the nerds' and you didn't want to be one?

It is well known that good teachers love the subject they are teaching.  On the other hand, if you as the teacher feel negative towards mathematics, it may show up when you are teaching your children and can affect them similarly.  Little children usually like numbers and math - yet many kids in public school develop 'math anxiety or phobia' or end up disliking math.  A major factor in that is the way math is taught and the way the teachers feel about math.

So one very important factor in motivating your children to study math is that you yourself, as the teacher, stay positive about math - if possible, enthusiastic!  Now, that may be hard of course, if you've previously felt differently.  It might help to read through this article on math phobia and math myths.  The erroneous beliefs you might have about mathematics can certainly affect how you teach, but as an adult, you can probably analyze your past experiences, beliefs, and feelings, and work consciously to change those.

If you really hate teaching math, you can also try to explain to your child (if she's older) how you feel, where it originated (in your schooling), and how you are trying hard to change that, but not always succeeding.  That might help her then not to adopt all your emotions.

Find good reasons to study math! The student might get more motivated if she/he knows where all math is needed.  So many times kids question the needfulness of things they study.  Emphasizing and pointing out the everyday applications of math may help them.

The basic math of the lower grades is obviously very needed in everyday life: measuring, estimating the bill when grocery shopping, cooking, sewing, woodwork are typical examples.  Understanding percent, large numbers, and basic statistics are essential in order to understand information in newspapers and schoolbooks.  As adults, we have to calculate and file taxes for the year, compare payment methods, figure out loans and home budgets etc.

And where is algebra, trig, and all that higher math needed?  Chiefly, if the student wants to study science, electronics, commerce, physics, math, medicine or various other fields further in the college or university.  Algebra also develops thinking skills.  The crux here is that many youngsters on ninth or tenth grade do NOT yet know what they want to do after school.  Therefore if there is any chance at all that one of these fields might be it, it is advisable to keep studying math.

Get the student involved!  One of the reasons for math anxiety is the way math is often taught as "There is only ONE way to do this, and you need to do learn it and do it right."  Math is presented as 'given from above'.  Students can be much more motivated if they are asked open questions, involved in the development of concepts, given very open-ended exercises.  Granted, this kind of teaching style may require a lot of planning from the teacher, probably a good understanding in math, and good materials.

Most importantly, the teacher should not put a wrong answer down.  Instead, say, "Please can you explain how you came up with that?"  In a classroom, a teacher can ask, "Did someone else get the same result as you? OK. Did somebody get a different result? OK, we have two (or three) different answers here. Let's figure them out."  Wrong answers are valuable.  You get insight into student's thinking and where he went wrong, and what needs retaught.  Students and kids need to be treated as humans and not feel put down or stupid for their answers.

Treat math as other school subjects, not as an unlearnable 'obscure' thing.  Some kids get the idea that they can't learn math - who told them that if not the teacher?  So do not make math to be some 'higher-level' unattainable skill.  Normal kids with normal intelligence can grasp the math presented in the basic school curriculum.
Excerpt from Awesome Grades for Math and Science

Take the emphasis off from tests.  Tests are a part of school but they don't need to be the ultimate goal.  The goal is to learn math so the child can use it in her life.  Tests, especially timed tests, and the way they are valued so high are one main reason for math anxiety in school kids.

Teach the student make summary notes to prepare for an exam.  Many students don't know the power that lies in making your own summary notes.  Making summary notes is extremely useful for grouping and organizing material so that you'll understand the relationships between the concepts better.  It's superb for memorizing large quantities of material, such as in biology or in chemistry, but also useful in math.  Kids may actually need to be explicitly taught how to study/memorize material for an exam.

Make a study schedule when preparing for a test.  Scheduling takes off the stress from studying, and ensures it won't be left till the last evening.  This habit can help your youngster tremendously in all subjects, and later in life too.

Other resources

Awesome Grades for Math and Science An e-book about confidence, motivation, and how to study. Includes how to make summary notes, how to schedule, finding the motivation within you, how to choose a tutor, tips for multiple choice tests, and more.

New equation can overcome math phobia

Coping with math anxiety - A comprehensive article delving into the social & and educational roots of math anxiety, math myhts, and strategies.

Student's Math Anxiety Bill of Rights - a short list of rights of a math student.

Dispelling the Math Myths

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