The Maths Anxiety Kid

Anxiety, by definition, is an irrational fear of something. Now I’ve heard the term ‘maths anxiety’ bandied about and know that according to empirical research this phenomenon exists – though for some reason you never hear about ‘English anxiety’ or ‘geography anxiety’*.

Whatever the reason for its existence, this week the maths anxiety of some of my students smacked me in the face.

Here’s the situation: mid-year exam coming up, students are given summary sheet templates to organise their notes and have some class time to do so. In theory, a perfect opportunity to revise a semester’s worth of work, practice questions and put together notes that can provide guidance during the exam.

For the Maths Anxiety Kid, instead this means leaving all books closed and pens out of sight, before finally writing a couple of words in their book, shortly followed by tearing out the page. The Maths Anxiety Kid will also engage in an interplay of offering to hand out sheets, clean the board, becoming argumentative about starting their work and endlessly wandering around the room.

On catching up with the Maths Anxiety Kid at a subsequent lunch or recess, he/she will have little to no recollection of the content of the lesson. Every persuasive technique picked up in English class will be tried on me to avoid revisiting the learning that was supposed to happen and putting pen to paper as we talk through a problem.

The Maths Anxiety Kid is a serial avoider, who lacks persistence and drive. In short, they hold a fixed mindset, perceiving their abilities in maths to be innate.

As teachers or parents or friends, our job is to help them turn this mindset around. Any display of effort and understanding should be celebrated and opportunities to use maths in a fun way, for example with games and puzzles, should be seized.

* Possible exception is ‘science anxiety’. I’m sure I had a mild form of it in high school.