11 November 2021
Gulf News: Of all the legacies you deign to give your child perhaps the most common – and least wanted – is a fear of mathematics.
As per an article published in ‘Harvard Business Review’ 93 per cent of Americans report experiencing some level of maths anxiety. As per a Programme for International Student Assessment in 2012, across the 34 participating Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, 59 per cent of the 15- to 16-year-old students said they worry about the perceived difficulty of maths classes while 33 per cent said number-crunching homework stressed them out and 31 per cent admitted to feeling nervous when confronted by a maths problem.
How does anxiety work in kids?
Anxiety around a subject is a learned behaviour. Mehanna explains that in a child's brain at a neuroscientific level, one can see that neural pathways are at their peak in forming strong connections. “These connections, if continuously used form a neural pattern that results in a future set behaviour. A perfect example is a child who goes to school and has a negative experience in the classroom, if this is a one-time event, the child will feel the negative emotion (shame, embarrassment, etc.). However, it will not form a strong neural pathway and over time it will begin to dissipate. However, if the same child is consistently facing a negative emotion when they are in the classroom, this will create a strong neural pathway that will result in anxiety whenever they're put in a classroom setting as a child and even into adulthood.
Hareem Navaid, who teaches math and business at Dwight School Dubai, says it’s imperative to acknowledge the problem and then employ a few tried-and-tested strategies to overcome it.
“I teach my students stress management techniques. We do mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing, and meditation during mathematics lesson. These techniques help students to relax during any stressful situation,” she adds.
“The teacher should also make efforts in providing students the autonomy, competency and purpose for each learning objective to keep them motivated and engaged in learning,” she says.
In classrooms, one must also teach test-taking strategies, says Navaid. “Encourage them to solve the easiest questions first. To tackle the hard math word problem, students can draw the word problem to visualise the scenario.
“Encourage them to proactively break down large tasks into smaller more achievable and less stressful small tasks,” she adds.
And you can teach them tricks that will not only make the subject fun but easier to understand. Navaid offers the following hacks:
Adding Fractions: The easiest way to add fractions to 1 as a whole number is to add the numerator and denominator then replace the answer as the numerator value.
Subtraction using addition: A simpler way to subtract two values is to add up the tens and the units of the value of the two digit number. The answer after addition will be the result of subtraction of both given values.
Multiplying with 99: Subtract 1 from the first double digit number. Then subtract that answer from 99. Then write both answers together. It will be the product of multiplying any doubt digit number with 99
Parents play a vital role in curing – or infecting – kids with math anxiety. Here are some ways you can help says Navaid.
• Check your attitude: Parents’ own attitude towards the mathematics also impact the children’s approach towards mathematics. Parents should not communicate any negative feelings about mathematics to their children.
• Do your prep work: Encourage time management and organisational skills. Help them to plan and prepare for test in advance.
• One report card grade doesn’t define a child. Your children are more than a grade on a report card. Praise and appreciate the effort, not only the final grade on the report card. Communicate it to your children also. One test won’t make or break the rest of her/his academic life or career.
• Remind your children about their strengths. Build their confidence by affirmations that “you can prepare for it”, “you can do this” or saying, “let’s do it together”. It brings the parents much closer to children and help improve parent child relationship which will help with anxiety as well.
• Tell them, it is easy to improve mathematical skills. Give your children confidence that he/she can improve her math ability by practicing.
• Encourage children to write down emotions. Studies have shown that writing down negative emotions reduces the severity of those emotions.
• Encourage a healthy lifestyle. “Structured bed times allow for enough time for the brain to rest, nurtured learning environments to avoid negative feelings that can result in fixed neural connections, and a healthy diet to feed the gut the vitamins and minerals essential to nourish the brain and its electrical output which we understand as emotions. In doing so not only can you reduce the level of anxiety displayed in a child but, you can also help them to build healthier fixed neural connections that will benefit them all the way into adulthood,” adds Mehanna.
A slow and steady approach to teaching math is sure to balance the numbers.
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