Millersville University Review - Spring/Summer 2014
Magazine for alumni and friends of Millersville University.
Everyone has something that makes them sweat. For some, it’s looking at a chalkboard riddled with numbers that simply don’t add up. It can be an uneasy feeling and it has a name— MATH ANXIETY BY MADELYN PENNINO Math anxiety can dull the enthusiasm of the brightest students or even trigger panic before a test. L aurie Hanich, an educational foundations professor at Millersville University, has seen how math can put students in an emotional tailspin. While she said math anxiety is not uncommon, it can have a huge effect on student performance. “If you are fearful, you will disengage and won’t get practice and exposure,” Hanich said. She said a lot of students have some form of math anxiety partly because teachers fail to teach the emotional side of math. “Some teachers base math skill on a student’s ability to be correct, fast and come up with only one solution,” Hanich said. “When teachers only recognize those who are successful, it increases a student’s anxiety and decreases their ability to focus.” That’s why Erin Moss, a math education professor at Millersville University, says her classroom is a math “judgment-free zone.” “It’s a really relaxed environment,” Moss said. “I laugh at my own mistakes, not theirs.” But not all teachers have Moss’s confidence level, or are aware that perhaps their own math anxiety is reflected on to their students. Female teachers who have their own insecurities about math have an impact on students, particularly female students, according to research. For instance, teachers who simply pay more attention to male math students can make female students feel less confident about approaching a math problem. It perpetuates the stereotype that boys are better in math than girls. “If teachers push boys more, call on boys more, or give them harder problems to do, girl students tend to model that (teacher’s) behavior,” Hanich said. Moss agrees that there is a correlation to how instructors teach math and student performance. “I don’t think that anxiety is tied to the subject of math, but the way it has been taught,” she said. Those kind of unconscious behaviors exhibited by teachers tend to make female math students feel isolated and 10 Review Spring/Summer 2014