What is Psychology’s Role in Math Education?

What is Psychology’s Role in Math Education?
You might have experienced some anxiety when faced with a math problem. Whether in your elementary days or doing taxes as an adult. This feeling is called 'math anxiety', and an article on the BBC shows that 93% of Americans experience this.

Math is one of the first subjects you encounter in school where you need to work for an answer that’s strictly objective, and you’re being evaluated in timed tests — this can trigger math anxiety the moment a child starts formal schooling which can then continue until adulthood.

Math anxiety stems from one’s perceived skill level in the subject, so once a child loses confidence in their ability, they develop a dislike of math, which then exacerbates the problem. But we can prevent this by teaching parents and educators how to make studying math easier and more enjoyable. We can also support those who are struggling or have already started to show signs of math anxiety. So with all of this in mind, here is a more specific breakdown of how you can help children improve their math skills:

Praise the student’s hard work

Perhaps the simplest thing you can do is to praise a child’s hard work when studying math. At times, however, statements like “you’re smart” or “you’re good with numbers” can create a fear of failure, which can cause children to be scared of math problems that they think are too difficult.

Instead of praising them for their current skill in math, draw attention to the efforts they put into solving a problem. Examples of compliments can be along the lines of “I love your persistence in working on this problem” and “It’s brave of you to attempt such a difficult question.” This will make it so that even struggling children feel you’re also paying attention to their hard work, and not just if they get the answer right or wrong.

Consult with school psychologists

Consulting with school psychologists will be a great help to reducing a child’s math anxiety and improving their math education. As highlighted by Maryville University’s psychology program, today’s psychologists are knowledgeable in different aspects of the field, such as social psychology and psychology core, which enable them to better understand human behavior. This allows psychologists to help struggling students because they can spot math anxiety symptoms, such as sweatiness, tears or anger, and under achievement. They can then suggest methods to help alleviate these symptoms.

Kelsey Gould, a Ph.D. student at the University of Calgary’s school and applied child psychology, calls these investigating factors that affect the child’s learning as the ‘whole-child approach’. Psychologists might want to talk to the parents and teachers, seeking to find out more about the student’s specific circumstances. Among the methods they can suggest is making math lessons practical and relevant to the child. For example, money is something that they use every day, so it can be used for lessons in conversion and basic math operations.

Keep it fun

If you have math anxiety, a study on NCBI states that it can affect the way you help children learn math. Parents can unconsciously show their fear or dislike of the subject, which will eventually be transferred to the children. Additionally, parents may impose high expectations for their child to do well in the subject, which will only add to the fear of failure connected to math. You should make the effort to present math lessons in a fun way since children learn through play.

You can play games like Prodigy, which has elements of RPGs like Pokémon. But in Prodigy, you need to correctly answer math questions to win. The questions are customizable to suit your current lesson. Also, you can use SumBlox packages for open-ended play as well as directed learning, while also helping the children visualize numbers. Younger children will additionally benefit from them by having improved fine and gross motor skills and sensory exploration while handling the blocks.

Written by Michelle Asha Cole

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