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Diversity in STEM

5 Ways to Combat Math Anxiety

In the nearly 50 years since scholar Sheila Tobias published her 1978 bestselling book “Overcoming Math Anxiety,” our aversion to mathematics has persisted.

Despite an increased national awareness of mathematics’ importance to our evolving economy, not only are students performing historically poorly in this subject, but according to one study, by as early as the second grade, “nearly half of students indicate they are ‘moderately nervous’ to ‘very nervous’” about the subject altogether.

In an article published by the Harvard Gazette, Brendan Kelly, director of introductory math at Harvard University, explained that one of the main misunderstandings people have is that those who are talented at mathematics are born with natural abilities.

“There’s a genius myth in mathematics,” said Kelly. “There’s often this perception that success requires some natural ability, some unteachable qualities, some immutable traits.”

Of course, this is simply untrue, and as we work together to help students feel more comfortable and confident in their mathematics abilities, we invite you to use the following strategies:


1. Reframing Mistakes

For students who have low confidence in their mathematics abilities, mistakes and errors can reinforce negative and self-defeating beliefs. To combat this, encourage your students to track and celebrate the small successes they experience over time and reframe their mistakes as opportunities to improve.


2. Step by Step

If a particular problem is overwhelming for a student, consider ways you can help them break the challenge into smaller steps. For solving word problems, for instance, encourage students to identify and write out all of the numerical variables and address how each functions with one another.


3. Visual Representations

For more elementary mathematical concepts, using manipulatives like beads, blocks and counters can help students who are more visual and tactile learners. For more advanced ideas, consider using educational apps, interactive whiteboards or free online tools and games to graphically represent these concepts.


4. Relatable Role Models

Especially for students with backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, helping them find a relatable role model can go a long way in boosting their confidence and guiding them to see that they too can excel in these subjects.


5. Embracing Invention Education

Authentic invention education invites students to create their own solutions to real-world problems by developing invention prototypes through a series of hands-on challenges. Often mathematics concepts are seamlessly integrated throughout this type of curriculum, allowing students to better understand their relevance.


Learn More About How Invention Education Engages Students!

Interested in exploring how the National Inventors Hall of Fame® designs programs that have inspired millions of students and educators for over 30 years? Visit our website!

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