Math Anxiety: Dealing with the Problem

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

As children of all ages head back to school, many will be burdened with the added challenge of math anxiety. “It’s a problem that usually starts at an early age, and if it isn’t addressed in grade school, math anxiety can hinder students throughout their education and beyond,” says Agnes Rash, Ph.D., professor of mathematics at Saint Joseph’s University.

Rash suggests that while teachers are often the first to detect and deal with the problem, parents need to be aware that their own behavior can strongly influence how their child navigates math class. “If a parent also has math anxiety, they should be careful of making statements that can be perceived as condoning failure,” Rash says. “Statements such as ‘I was never any good at math, either,’ or ‘I can’t help you with your homework; I don’t understand math,’ can give the child the message that it’s ok to give up.”

Similarly, Rash says that teachers need to be mindful of how they present mathematic concepts in class. “Making statements like ‘this is going to be hard; pay attention,’ can create an atmosphere of anxiety and fear,” she notes.

According to Rash, difficulty with math often starts because an individual student has missed a concept in class, and not because there is any underlying learning deficiency.

“There is a misconception that some people don’t have the ‘brains’ to do math,” she says. “Most people in the general population have everything they need to be proficient in math, and this includes doing algebra and geometry. What they might lack is the desire to learn the basics, which requires them to practice and drill, just like any other discipline.”

Contact Information

Rash, who is an expert in math pedagogy, is currently developing Sudoku puzzles and other games that teachers can use as interventions for math anxiety. She can be reached for comment at 610-660-1562,, or the Office of University Communications at 610-660-3240.

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