By: Nur Izzaty Bt Mohd Murad D20081033175
What is the mathematics anxiety?
Mathematics anxiety defined as feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic situations. Mathematics anxiety can cause one to forget and lose one’s self confidence (Tobias, 1978). People who suffer from mathematics anxiety feel that they are incapable of doing activities and classes that involve mathematics. Some mathematics anxious people even have a fear of mathematics or mathematics phobia.
Mathematics anxiety also called mathophobia or we also can call whatever we want to call. It makes a large number of students’ minds go blank momentarily even when a simple calculation is needed. Sweating palms, queasy stomach, panic, fear, clenched fists, cold sweat, helplessness, tension, distress, dry mouth, shame and inability to cope and so on are a few of the signs of mathematical anxiety (Burton, 1979). When confronted with any mathematical situation both physically and psychologically these are the feelings.
Anxiety is manifested physiologically, phenomenologically, and behaviourally. Students confronted with a difficult mathematical task on which they are to be assessed may feel nervous and show signs such as tremor in the limbs and sweating of hands. They may have great difficulty in marshalling their thoughts and feel restless and tense. They may not be able to relax or sit in their chair for long and they may engage in behaviours such as pacing around the room.
According to Spielberg (1966), it was Cattell and Scheier (1961) who identified the two distinct anxiety factors which they labelled state anxiety and trait anxiety using factor analytic studies. Mathematics anxiety can be seen as having both these aspects. Lazarus (1974) described mathematics anxiety, which he called mathophobia as irrational dread of mathematics. He said mathophobia can seriously impair a student’s mathematical performance through a vicious cycle of worsening attitude towards the subject.
Why does it happen?
There are a lot of factors contribute to mathematics anxiety. Lazarus (1974) argued that mathematics anxiety results from poor instruction and poorly designed mathematics curricula. It is related to the abstract nature of mathematics (Burton, 1979); Brush, 1981; Ferguson, 1986). Poor spatial skills (Tobias, 1976) make mathematical comprehension difficult for many people.
From the affective perspective, Bush (1991) commented that mathematics anxiety arises from a climate in which negative attitudes and anxiety are transmitted from adults to children. McMillan (1976) found that teachers’ attitude and enthusiasm toward a subject had greater impact on student attitudes than instructional variables. Teachers with mathematics anxiety transmit their anxiety to their students (Kelly and Tomhave, 1985; Bulman and Young, 1982 and Lazarus, 1974)
Lazarus (1974) and Wilhelm and Brooks (1980) added that negative parental attitudes may be transmitted to their children and that parents often reinforce their children’s mathematics anxiety.
From the research that was conducted (Puteh, 1998), it was found that the causes of mathematics anxiety were related to teacher personality and their style of teaching, public examinations and their effect, affective domain such as the self factor, feelings, worries and difficulties, parental expectations, peer group influences and the relevance of study mathematics.
Who has it?
Mathematics anxiety mostly suffered by students. Lazarus (1974) stated that at one point or another during their education, any students is likely to acquire mathophobia. This could happen because the students could have reached some level in their mathematical training beyond which they found progress extremely difficult. After reaching this point, student would be likely to stop studying mathematics. If it became necessary to take more mathematics, both the necessity and the mathematics could become sources of anxiety. Mathematics anxiety is considered to be a common characteristic among many students and adults (Buxton, 1981).
A study by Betz (1978) suggests that mathematics anxiety is a problem for many college students, including even those in advanced mathematics classes, whose majors require an extensive background in mathematics.
Besides that teachers also encounter mathematics anxiety. Primary teachers are often found to suffer most acutely from mathematics anxiety (Briggs, 1993; Briggs and Crook, 1991), possibly because of the lack of a firm foundation in mathematics, coupled with the nature of the subject itself. In this book said that teachers’ trainees also suffer from mathematics anxiety.
When does it occur?
From this research, mathematics anxiety occurs mostly when teachers’ trainees will take on examinations. National examinations or just the monthly test are also another major component that seems to have contributed to anxiousness towards mathematics. Sitting for National Examinations or basically just sitting for any examination triggers a lot of anxiety in these trainees. Their past experience of failure in the subject acts as a stimulus to disable them from performing well. Words such as mathematics test or examinations, mathematics questions or even just mathematics itself trigger anxiousness for these trainees as for many of them their past experiences of failure controlled their response towards it.
Mathematics anxiety also occurs when teachers call their students to the blackboard to perform a mathematical task. This might have unintentionally done to make the students feel nervous and anxious. They fear of making mistakes in front of the class. They felt that their failure to perform the mathematical task in public reflected on them personally.
Many students from data above said that over and over again they are stricken with panic when confronted with a situation involving the performance in mathematics, particularly when others are watching. These situations may seem to be non-threatening. But yet, when faced with particular mathematics situations they are often victimized by panic and act inappropriately. Many said that they could not bear the thought of how stupid they might look if they were unable to solve the questions.
Who or What create it?
Mathematics anxiety created by :
i. Teacher-student relationship
The mathematical progress of many trainees was clearly undermined by their teacher’s way of handling them in classroom. From this research almost every other trainee who was interviewed said they would not request help from their teachers when they needed it. It is simply because they fear of asking for help and they feel shy because they do not know how to solve the mathematics problems.
Besides that, the fear of being blamed by their teachers seemed to be a recurring theme in the trainees’ responses. This situation created a barrier between the teacher and the student relationship. The way teachers ridiculed the students also seemed to play an important role in this relationship.
Many expressed their fear of strict and fierce teachers and associated this phenomenon with negative feelings towards mathematics. Even more serious teacher using threats to force their students in mathematics.
Lastly a number of trainees expressed their frustration when they sensed that their teachers did not bother or showed interested in teaching them. It was felt especially if their teachers were too preoccupied just teaching from the front and was not at all concerned with the students’ needs.
ii. Teaching style
The most prominent issue raised by the trainees was that their teachers were using old fashioned way of teaching (Puteh, 2002). The way of the subject was being taught led the trainees to perceive the subject as having no links to everyday life. Thus the process creates a dislike for the subject and an anxiety by itself.
iii. Pressure of examinations
All the teacher trainees that were interviewed seemed to indicate that a good results in their mathematics test or examinations definitely boosted their confidence and acted as a motivator to strive further in the subject. If the students keep failing in their tests negative feelings and dislike for the subject created. It can make them feel isolated from their friends an anxious of their future.
A study by Betz (1978) revealed that the level of mathematics anxiety reported was related to scores on a standardized mathematics achievement test. In other words people with high achievement scores tended to report low mathematics anxiety and vice versa. The trainees here seemed to confirm that high anxiety about mathematics was predictably liked with poor results in public examinations.
iv. The family and peer group influences
Most of the trainees seemed to say that encouragement and expectation from family enhance their interest and spirit to success in mathematics. However too high of an expectation without any practical help can also create anxiety and avoidance towards the subject.
How do you reduce it?
There are a lot of way can be done to reduce mathematics anxiety among people in Malaysia. Morris (1981) offered several suggestions for overcoming such problems such as :
i. Minimize or eliminate such tests and replace them by other less threatening forms of assessment
ii. Refrain from isolating a student at the blackboard but instead request that students work together in small groups co-operatively on problems
iii. Eliminate show-of-hands competitions and class contests that openly compare one student with another, as many students are particularly distressed by such competitiveness.
In the western culture, where this phenomenon is highly documented helping students to cope with this anxiety has been a major priority. Hence if this phenomenon is to be minimized or avoided a similar awareness and commitment to tackling the problem must be adopted in Malaysian teacher-training.
Morris (1981) also suggested constructive techniques and strategies for teachers to help prevent math anxiety among students. Create a positive , supportive classroom atmosphere, stress understanding the thought process, dispel the math mind myth, provide new positive math experiences, use concrete materials to teach content, make sure each concept is understood before continuing, reduce tension and pressure in mathematics classes, give positive feedback on written tests and be sensitive but determined.
It is apparent from the data that positive quality showed by their teachers had tremendous positive impact on these trainees and on their perception of the subject. Patience, gentleness, caring, encouraging, kind, helpful, guiding, always concerned, giving lots of attention to the student’s individual needs and listening to the students problem regarding mathematics are the qualities which these trainees would like to have seen in their teachers. Therefore these qualities need to be promoted in mathematics teachers in order to help minimize the anxiety of their students towards the subjects. The training college where students attained to be teacher is where these qualities should be emphasized and demanded.
How do you eliminate it?
Obviously there is no easy solution to this problem as it is a vicious cycle. Therefore in order to make the transformation the whole system to be change in order to make progress. It has to start somewhere and recognizing the root of the problems is a starting point. So this phenomena needs to be taken seriously. The training colleges where students are trained to be teachers must be induced into a different mode and style of teaching so that as they do not reproduce the mistakes made by their teachers. Hence the vicious cycle can only be broken by promoting a different style of teaching which emphasizes understanding and not just memorizing, drill and practice. Last but not least the aims, methods and content of the mathematics syllabus for these trainees needs to be looked into and revised to enable such changes to take place.