17% of Americans suffer from high levels of math anxiety. |
As early as 1st grade, students can start displaying negative attitudes towards math. |
80% of surveyed students enjoyed learning activities more when they used tablets. |
Key takeaways
- The relationship between attitude towards math and learning outcomes is bidirectional. A positive attitude towards math can lead to higher achievement, and high achievement can result in more favorable attitudes.
- Students’ attitude towards math can affect their overall achievement. Value, self-confidence, enjoyment, motivation and anxiety surrounding math are all reflected in a student’s attitude. Getting involved as early as possible is the best way to prevent long-lasting negative attitudes towards math.
- Digital game-based learning is a promising option for improving opinions on math. Since kids have so much fun playing video games, incorporating them into learning can increase motivation and engagement — leading to better attitudes towards math and greater achievement.
Table of contents
- Math anxiety
- Attitude and achievement -- a bidirectional relationship
- The importance of a positive attitude
- Game-based learning and attitude towards math
Affect and its impact on math learning
According to the American Psychological Association, feelings that impact a person’s mood and emotional reaction can be referred to as affect, and attitude towards math is one example of an affective state.Research considers affect to exist on a sliding scale -- ranging from positive to negative. Naturally, this means in a school full of students, you’ll see a huge range of different affective states related to math learning. For every child who looks forward to their next math lesson, there’s another who feels confused and defeated. One student might not like math because they think the subject isn’t useful, while another dislikes it because they doubt their own ability to succeed. Many studies link attitude towards math to math learning and ultimately, math achievement. Positive attitude has been associated with higher achievement, while negative attitude appears to relate to poor performance.Where do negative math attitudes come from?
There are many possible contributors to negative attitudes towards math, including:- The idea that math is for “smart people.”
- The perception of math as a “boring” subject.
- A general lack of confidence in one’s learning abilities.
- Being overwhelmed by complex and difficult math problems.
- An inability to understand the relevance of math in “the real world.”
Math Anxiety
Math anxiety is an extreme, yet all-too-common, example of what can happen with a negative attitude towards math. Educational Studies in Mathematics considers Math anxiety to be a feeling of tension and worry that interferes with a student's ability to solve math problems. Those with math anxiety have extremely negative perceptions about their own ability to succeed in the subject, often thinking:- I hate math.
- I just can’t do math.
- I’ll never be good at it, so what’s the point in trying?
Attitude and achievement -- a bidirectional relationship
To improve student attitudes and achievement in math, it’s important to understand the connection between the two. At first glance, it might seem like an obvious correlation: if a student has a good attitude towards math, they’ll be more inclined to learn, they’ll try harder and their performance will be better. As Guney Haciomeroglu from Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University says:Anxiety and attitude towards mathematics are important predictors of motivation and educational outcomes related to achievement.This idea can be taken a step further. Research suggests the relationship between attitude and achievement is bidirectional. This means a relationship can develop from two different directions:
- A student with a positive attitude towards math:
- A student with higher achievement in math:
The importance of a positive attitude
Short-term achievement in math can be great, but positive attitudes can lead to so much more than a few good test scores. Educators should instill positive attitudes in math not just for better performance in the subject, but also to improve overall cognitive abilities and help create lifelong learners! When students display a positive attitude towards math, improvements can be seen in:- Emotions
- Motivation
- Confidence
- Engagement
- Working memory
- Numerical processing
Having a positive attitude acts directly on your memory and learning system. I think that’s really important and interesting.Lang Chen, PhDStanford UniversityImprovements in each of these areas certainly contribute to greater learning abilities and educational outcomes, but they also make for healthier, happier students overall. This is why instilling positive attitudes and promoting a growth mindset as early as possible is so important. Image source: Teaching a Latte in First