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3 Ways to Prevent "Math Trauma"

Math. It's part of the core curriculum in every school across the globe, but that doesn't mean that everyone enjoys it. Yes, it helps us understand and analyze complex problems, but for many students, math can be a source of fear, anxiety, and frustration. Too many kids today are being traumatized by math class. The term "math trauma" has been coined to describe the negative emotions associated with math, which can lead to a lack of interest, poor academic performance, and low self-esteem in the subject. Terms like "polynomial equation" should be exciting, not nightmare inducing.

If you want your students to actually enjoy the process and walk away with a greater understanding, you need relevance. Using real-life examples instead of the dreaded word problem we all roll our eyes at. Questions like “Train A heads north at an average speed of 95 miles per hour while Train B travels…” are becoming a trigger. So how can you help students to avoid “math trauma?”

Here are three ways to bring excitement back to math class:

1. Build a Strong Foundation

The key to preventing math trauma is to build a strong foundation of its principles. Mathematics is a subject that builds upon itself, and when a student struggles with a particular concept, the frustration will only build over time. Focus on helping your class have a solid understanding of the basics before moving on to more complex topics. This may mean students need a tutor or early intervention for greater success and understanding. Going back to basics isn't a bad thing. 

Use Manipulatives

Another way to help build that foundation is to provide students with hands-on activities and manipulatives that help them visualize math concepts. Using blocks to teach addition and subtraction or a balance scale to teach the concept of equality. These activities help students understand the concepts in a tangible way, making it easier to remember and apply them in the future. And these concepts can be helpful at any age, not just for little kids. 

Understand the Process

Emphasize the process rather than the result. Instead of just hammering in the value of getting the right answer, encourage students to explain how they arrived at the answer. This helps to reinforce the thought process behind math, making it easier for students to understand and apply the concepts. This also engages their critical thinking and communication skills which will help in all areas of life. 

2. Make Math Fun

Mathematics can be a dry and boring subject for many students. By making it fun and engaging, students are more likely to enjoy learning the subject. There are many ways to make math fun, like incorporating games, competitions, and puzzles into lessons. For example, play math bingo or use math crossword puzzles as a way to review concepts. 

Use Real-Life Situations

Another way to make math fun is to relate it to real-life situations. This helps students see math's practical application in their daily lives, making it more relevant and interesting. For example, using grocery shopping to teach addition and subtraction or cooking as a way to teach fractions.

Employ Technology

Using technology can also make math more engaging. There are several interactive games and apps that can make learning math more fun and interactive. By incorporating technology into lessons, teachers can make math more accessible and engaging for students. There are a plethora of online resources to help; just do a simple Google search. 

3. Encourage a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is a belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication. Encouraging a growth mindset in students can help to prevent math trauma by promoting a positive attitude towards learning and a willingness to take on challenges.

One way to encourage a growth mindset is by praising effort over ability. Instead of just praising students for getting the right answer, acknowledge their effort and hard work. This helps to promote the idea that success is achieved through effort and persistence rather than just innate ability.

Set Goals

Another way to encourage a growth mindset is by setting realistic goals and providing opportunities for students to reflect on their progress. This helps students see their progress and encourages them to continue working towards their goals. And don't diminish the effort that goes into reaching smaller, more basic goals. 

Be Supportive

Provide support and encouragement when students make mistakes. Encourage them to see mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than as a failure. By promoting a positive attitude towards mistakes, students are more likely to take risks and try new things, which can lead to a deeper understanding and enjoyment of math.

Written by Deborah Andrus
Education World Contributor
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