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4 Ways to Help Students Overcome Their Math Fears

A young child nervously examines a black board with mathematic functions.

Just because math may seem intimidating to many students, it's not impossible to help them understand it.

By Fred Marcin, retired teacher and enrollment counselor for WGU

I am a retired sixth grade teacher with a math disability. Because of my disability I know intimately the anxiety many of my students felt the moment their math period began. 

Audible groans could be heard as my students reluctantly faced the challenge of a new math lesson or concept. Even at this age, many students had already developed fears and negative attitudes about their ability to do math. 

Consequently, at the beginning of each school year, I always had a roundtable discussion with my students in order to openly address their fears and concerns surrounding math. These discussions always proved beneficial because it allowed my students to share their concerns with each other and to realize that they were not alone.

Further Reading: 5 Strategies to Bust Test Stress

It was during these discussions that I uncovered four critical points that helped to alleviate my students’ anxieties with math. They are as follows:

  1. In all math there are only four operations. From simple arithmetic to quantum physics, human beings only do four things! They add, subtract, multiply, and divide. That’s it!
  2. Watch your number columns. Keeping number columns straight down and up eliminates place value errors. So, when using scratch paper to do math, keep your columns straight. And use plenty of scratch paper so as not to crowd your work.
  3. Take your time calculating and don’t rush. Math is unforgiving. You can’t get an answer almost right. By slowing down you will significantly reduce silly errors in calculation.
  4. For those with math test anxiety, don’t be afraid of a test with a lot of problems. Math test problems should be viewed as an at-bat in a baseball game. It’s your opportunity to get a hit! And the more opportunities you get, the more your chances increase of doing well on a math test.

My experience with students in these discussions was that they were actually relieved after learning about these four points, especially the point of there being only four operations in all of math. 

Further Reading: The Best Practices for Changing Your Teaching Methods Midyear

So, have those discussions throughout the school year. Share your own math anxiety. Believe me, your students will completely relate. Pass out a lot of scratch paper. And give your students enough time to slow down and do well on their assignments and tests.