How to help students overcome elementary math anxiety

Elementary math focuses on things like logic and problem solving, which become an issue for some students and can even hinder their performance on tests. Feelings of nervousness, anxiousness and tension tend to take over, essentially preventing the student from completing the problem to the best of his or her ability.

According to the University of Chicago News, researchers have found a strong link between math success and activity in a network of brain areas in the frontal and parietal lobes involved in controlling attention and negative emotional reactions. Turns out, this negative response would kick in whenever a student had to solve a math problem.

"Classroom practices that help students focus their attention and engage in the math task at hand may help eliminate the poor performance brought on by math anxiety," explained Sian Beilock, associate professor in psychology at the University of Chicago.

Those students who experienced more success in math were those who were able to focus their attention on the task at hand and were able to control any negative emotions. Here are a few ways to help students think more positively about elementary math and guide them to academic success:

Put a positive spin on math
Technology is helping students to become more individualized learners. Through online math programs and blended learning strategies, students are able to learn math in a fun, virtual environment. Rather than becoming overwhelmed and frustrated with a problem, these programs take students through each problem at their own pace, rather than the pace of the teacher or other students. The user only moves on if they feel comfortable with the material. Through online progress reports, teachers can also see where students are struggling and succeeding and tailor their math lessons to that.

Incorporate problem solving into day-to-day schedule
If you make problem solving a daily activity, students may become more familiar with strategies and methods and feel more comfortable about solving them on their own. Instead of assigning three or four problems at a time, give them just one to focus all of their attention on. Follow up by going over the problem as a class and figure out the best way to get to the solution. suggested starting small and keeping these problem solving sessions to no more than 10 to 15 minutes per day. As the weeks progress, slowly mix in more difficult problems.

When it comes time to go over the problem as a class, reveal the answer first. If you go around the room asking for the correct answer, students may experience anxiety, not knowing if they had the right or wrong answer. Instead reveal the answer and follow up with discussion on how students came to that particular solution.

Reduce anxiety through math games
Oftentimes, if you bring a game into the classroom, students tend to forget that they’re actually using math strategies and problem solving during the game. Think fun games like Yahtzee, Battleship, Dominoes and Connect Four. All of these demand simple mental math. After the game is over, list all of the skills that students successfully used to help boost their mathematical confidence.