Author Archives: Scott Nielsen

Good News About Math Anxiety

There have been many studies done about anxiety and mathematics to the extent that it has become a well-known phenomenon. I have personally struggled with math anxiety, and it still comes on at times, which can be a challenge working among very educated math professionals at the AIMS Center. This anxiety can be more than just feelings of nervousness or butterflies in the stomach when doing math tasks. Some people suffer more severe effects such as elevated blood pressure, sweating, reduced ability to think, and even nausea.

For teachers who struggle with math anxiety, there can be an additional level of anxiety. Namely, anxiety about teaching mathematics to students. This type of anxiety can affect teachers of any grade level. The impact of these types of anxieties on students has been unknown. However, a recent study by Kristin Hadley and Jim Dorward has revealed some good news.

The first piece of good news about math anxiety is that it does not affect student performance in math. That is, if a teacher is anxious about their mathematical understanding, this does not usually translate into poor math performance by their students. This realization can be freeing, as it can release a teacher from any associated feelings of guilt that dwell with their math anxiety.

When a teacher with math anxiety first begins their career, it is not surprising that there is a high likelihood that they will also have anxiety about teaching mathematics. The Hadley study shows that this type of anxiety does negatively affect student math performance. To clarify, a teacher’s anxiety about their own math does not lower student math performance, but their anxiety about teaching math does have a negative effect.

However, there is good news here as well. Hadley’s study reveals that there is no permanent or causal relationship between the two types of anxiety. That is, having anxiety about math does not necessitate anxiety about teaching math. Many teachers who are anxious about their teaching practices decide to improve and overcome their anxiety in a variety of ways such as attending workshops, reading educational journals or blogs, or recruiting a coach to improve their math education practices. These measures, in turn, benefit their students and increases their math performance.

As we continue working with math educators, I have the joy of being able to share with them the good news that we are, together, seeking to improve our math education practices and therefore improving the lives of students with which we regularly come in contact. I would love to hear about your experiences with math anxiety and anxiety about teaching math. Please comment or send an email. How has math anxiety affected you or your teaching? What have you done that might be helpful to other teachers?


Why Teach Using Centers?

Have you ever seen a fellow teacher running math centers and wondered how they could pull it off? I used to think that if I tried, chaos would erupt all over the room and it would end in disaster. This past spring I was able to run some math centers in a first-grade classroom. It… Continue Reading

It CAN Be Done!

Here they came. As I sat at the kidney table in a first-grade classroom I began to sweat a little. I had just called over a small group of students. They were coming, including Lincoln (pseudonym). This boy had been challenging me since I began working with him. He sought attention, but never for positive… Continue Reading

Mr. Miyagi Should Not Teach Math

“Wax on! Wax off!” Most people can identify these words as being from the classic 80s movie “Karate Kid”. In the film, Daniel, a karate student, is told his lessons will involve waxing a car. This makes no sense to him, but he follows instructions. Following this “lesson” are others involving painting the fence, sanding… Continue Reading

Using Tools

Teachers use a lot of tools. We use physical tools like copy machines, scissors, and staplers. We also use educational tools like math manipulatives, websites, textbooks, and assessments. Recently, I had an experience with a tool which was new to me and I would like to share some thoughts about that experience. At the AIMS… Continue Reading

Math is NOT Beautiful

People who are seen as mathematicians are famous for uttering this line all the time, “mathematics is beautiful.” Whenever someone says this, some people nod in agreement, while still others nearby are probably wishing they saw the same beauty in math. I would like to take a moment to analyze this statement and, ultimately, refute… Continue Reading

Encouraging a Playful Spirit

It is difficult to open any kind of math publication lately without seeing the word “play.” It seems like everyone in the math-twitter-blog-o-sphere can’t say enough about the value of allowing children to play in the classroom. Indeed, the power of play in children’s development is undeniable. However, I can’t help but wonder if a… Continue Reading

Do Teachers Really Teach?

Picture a beach along California’s beautiful coast with sand, sun, and a light breeze. Waves crash with regularity. Now imagine that one particular wave comes higher up the beach and splashes into a collection of driftwood. The effect of the wave on the wood depends on the wood’s weight, shape, and size. In short, the… Continue Reading

Spoiler Alert!

My teaching career began in a 6th grade multiple-subject classroom. Along with math, I loved having my students experience good literature. One favorite activity for both the students and myself was to read aloud to them. I had a few favorite read-aloud chapter books that I would share with them, like Freak the Mighty by… Continue Reading