How to Make Kids Less Terrified of Math

preschool math, primary school maths, secondary school maths

How to Make Kids Less Terrified of Math

Tutoring Can Reduce Math Anxiety

A new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience looks at kids who have math anxiety. It finds that tutoring can significantly reduce their nerves, altering the fear circuits in their brains.

However, it is interesting to note that these changes were not due to an improvement in math abilities. The study’s senior author Vinod Menon, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, says, “They’re really related to anxiety, and that gives us a better sense of the mechanisms by which this is working.”

Menon estimated that between 17 to 30% of elementary and middle-school age kids have math anxiety. The researchers hypothesised that exposing these kids to the very thing they fear will make them less afraid and benefit from more time exposed to it.

Testing out the hypothesis

To test this, the researchers assessed the levels of math anxiety of third graders with a questionnaire. The children were sorted into two groups – those with high anxiety and those with low anxiety. As the children solved problems, their brains were scanned, revealing a key difference between the two groups. Kids with high math anxiety showed higher levels of activation in the amygdala. Amygdala is the region responsible for processing fearful stimuli and emotions. “Even at this young age, math stimuli can provoke, hyperactive and engage the emotion centers of the brain in ways that were not the case in children with low math anxiety,” Menon says.

The children received one-on-one tutoring three times a week. They were exposed to many problems, guided and encouraged by their tutors during this period. Eight weeks later, both groups improved in performance by about the same amount. However, the group with math anxiety showed big changes when the researchers repeated the brain scan at the end of study: The previously active parts of the amygdala looked just like the brains of kids who didn’t have math anxiety.

“Repeated exposure can make the child feel more in control of situations involving mathematical problem solving, thereby diminishing their math anxiety,” the authors write.

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