Overcoming Math Anxiety in the Classroom March 27, 2017 00:00

Stress in cereal bowlA University of Chicago science researcher has discovered that high-achieving first- and second-graders may experience math anxiety more often than their classmates.

The study involved 88 first-graders and 66 second-graders in a large-city school system. The team found about half of high-achieving students suffer from math anxiety. The researchers suggest some ways of dealing with math anxiety, including having students write about it before they have to actually begin doing math. Read more at upi.com/ScienceNews. 

Dr. Sian L. Beilock, a psychologist at the University of Chicago and author of Choke, a book describing the brain’s response to performance pressure, discovered that high math anxiety in first and second grade teachers negatively effects the performance of their students. Read more in Learning Math Without the Anxiety by Dr. Fred Jones.
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With Excel Math lessons, anxiety is reduced as teachers are given a systematic way to teach math that minimizes stress for students as well as for the teacher. Students are given tools to build confidence while they learn math concepts.

Mastery is not expected to happen on the same day a new concept is introduced. Instead, concepts are introduced and then reviewed several times during Guided Practice before those concepts are included on homework or tests.

The proprietary Excel Math Spiraling process involves systematic spaced repetition. Students have a chance to see a concept over and over before they are asked to recall it during homework. Repetition helps put the concepts into long-term memory so students are prepared for tests. Anxiety is minimized, and students begin to be confident that math is doable and achievable (and even fun). Read more in our previous blog post, "Giving Math Students the Opportunity to Make Mistakes."


Teacher writing on white boardAccording to Judy Willis M.D., a neurologist and author of Learning to Love Math, anxiety can literally cut off the working memory needed to learn and solve problems. So how does Excel Math work to reduce anxiety? It's simple. The teacher teaches the lesson (provided in the Teacher Edition) to the students. Using optional Projectable Lesson slides displayed on a whiteboard or screen, the teacher can explain to the students how to solve the problems and then have a student show the rest of the class how it's done.

During this time, the teacher slowly walks students through the practice problems one step at a time. Initial questions and any confusion can be addressed here.
After this brief period of teaching, the students begin the Guided Practice portion of the class. During Guided Practice, students work on math problems that reinforce the concepts just taught. The teacher is free to move around the classroom, helping those students who get stuck. Having the Projectable Lesson on the screen gives students a visual reminder of how to solve the problems. Plus, students are given a natural feedback loop with the Excel Math CheckAnswer system. This system allows students to check their own work and gives them a chance to actually get the answer correct! 
The CheckAnswer is a special part of Excel Math lessons because it gives students a chance to make mistakes and fix them on their own. It is used throughout Excel Math for Grades 2-6. This CheckAnswer system enables students to check their own work and verify for themselves that they understand the concepts in the day's Guided Practice and Homework.

With Excel Math, students are encouraged to solve the problems, show their work, check their answers, and then go back and fix any errors they've made. At the same time, students are given an immediate feedback loop so they don't have wait until the next day to find out which problems they've missed. Read more in our previous post.
During Guided Practice, the teacher is available to help students who need it, while allowing them to progress independently through problems they understand. In this way, the teacher can catch and correct any errors before they are repeated. Instead of simply pointing out errors, it's more helpful to students when we give them the tools to continue the problem-solving process independently. Building on that success, the student begins to relax. We've eliminated any reason for the student to be defensive. Instead, the student gains confidence and realizes "I can do it!" and "it's not that hard."
Effective teachers realize that Guided Practice makes up a large portion of the lesson. There is plenty of time for practice, and it is unhurried. As Fred Jones puts it, "The message from the teacher is, 'We will all get this. It is only a matter of time.'" However, Excel Math lessons do not expect mastery the first time a concept is introduced. As concepts spiral back into the Homework and Guided Practice, they begin to become part of longterm memory. Students who struggled previously find they can be successful with Excel Math. High-achieving students can move quickly through the lessons, proceeding at their own pace and spending more time on stretches (brain teasers), activities, and Create A Problem exercises.
Some naysayers call this practice time "drill and kill." However, as Dr. Jones points out, "you have to practice something a lot before you get good at it." Mixing up the pencil and paper practice with Online Basic Fact Practice, stretches, activities and manipulatives (all included in the Teacher Edition) can help keep the student's interest and prevent boredom. But the sense of accomplishment as the student finishes the lesson sheet is often its own motivator.
This principal from Robbinsville, North Carolina called to thank us for the excellent results his school had using Excel Math:
“We wanted to let you know that Robbinsville Elementary school was awarded the title School of Distinction during the 2011-2012 school year. We were recognized, in large part, as a result of high math scores—96 percent of 4th graders passed the state end of grade exam! Thanks to Excel Math for helping our students succeed in math."
Read more glowing reports from principals and teachers about how Excel Math can reduce students' math anxiety on the Excel Math website. New to Excel Math? It's easy to get started. Learn more here.

How do you reduce your students' anxiety in the classroom? Share your suggestions in our comments section below.