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Fostering Positive Attitudes in a Math Classroom

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

Many students today have a fear of math or they don't think that math is all that valuable. It is your job as their math teacher to help them see that math is not scary but very useful in the real world. Learn how in this lesson.

The Math Classroom

As a math teacher, you have quite a job ahead of you. Looking around at your class full of students, you feel hopeful that you can successfully inspire these young minds to love math like you do. You do have some obstacles ahead of you. Looking closely at the faces of this group of young adults, you see some apprehension as well as some apathy from different ones. This is understandable, you tell yourself, as many students have not had positive math experiences to fall back on. Many students also don't see the real-world value of math. You remain undaunted because you know exactly what to do to foster a positive math attitude in your classroom.

Math Anxiety

The biggest hurdle for some of your students is that of math anxiety. This is when a student or anybody for that matter gets nervous when working with numbers or anything related to math. Math anxiety has many causes, most of which stem from not having successful experiences in math. Many students feel pressured to come up with an answer but don't have the skill set needed to figure out the answer on their own. Couple this with timed tests where students must perform within a set period of time, and you can see how math anxiety quickly increases.

To help your students overcome any math anxiety they might have, you do the following for them:

  • You tell them that it's not just students that get math anxiety, but adults as well. It's not bad to have math anxiety, nor is it a sign of failure on their part.
  • When explaining new math topics, you take your time, and you teach multiple ways of solving the same problem. Not everybody thinks the same way, and where one method works for one student, it may not work at all for another student. As you teach various methods, you encourage your students to find the one that works for them. Tell them that it's perfectly okay to explore different ways as long as they understand what they are doing, and the answer is correct. The beauty of math is that you can get to the right answer in more than one way.

Increasing Confidence

Once your students become more comfortable with you and their own math skills, it is now time to build their confidence further in math. To help your students see just how far they have come, you show your students the difference in their work. You stress the point that when you first met, your students were struggling, but now they can do math smoothly without too many hiccups.

You can now play math relay games where you set up teams in your classroom, and you have each team solve a set of problems by cycling through each team member. For example, you have 30 students in your class, so you split your students up into 5 teams of 6 students each. You give each team a set of 12 problems each. You tell your students to solve each problem one student at a time. When one student is done solving one problem, the next student on the team goes ahead and solves another problem. Each team keeps cycling through students and problems until all the problems are done. When teams are done solving all the problems, then they win a prize. When students have fun and win, it increases their confidence.

One very important thing when it comes to building confidence is to give your students challenging problems they can solve. Don't give them problems that are so challenging that they get frustrated and give up because they can't solve them. You'll see the progress in your students, and you'll be able to build on their skills.

Real-World Mathematics

To address those students who are apathetic, you need to show them how useful math is in their everyday life. Instead of showing them just the steps to solve problems, you show them how they can use these steps to help them solve everyday problems and to make good decisions.

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