How to Help Scholars Be Less Intimidated by Math

How to Help Scholars Be Less Intimidated by Math
Sofije Brija

Math can be a daunting subject for many scholars. Whether it’s approaching multiplication tables, tackling long division, or navigating the world of fractions, many students are left feeling overwhelmed and intimidated. The good news is, this doesn’t have to be the case! There are a variety of tactics and approaches that can be taken to help students overcome their fear of math, leaving them with an appreciation and newfound enjoyment of the subject.

We reached out to some of our teachers and staff to collect ideas on what can be done to help scholars conquer their reservations when it comes to math and the responses are enlightening, attainable, and full of variety. Whether it’s confidence building, breaking down the approach, or practicing transparency, here are some thoughtful tips that will get students excited for math time! 

Ms. Mary Elizabeth Taylor
Math Coach

Stamford Charter School for Excellence

1. Build Confidence

Give students brain teasers, logic puzzles, and riddles that don’t require math skills to “even the playing field”. In this way, students who may struggle with math grade level concepts, still have an opportunity to problem solve and succeed. 

Celebrate growth, not grades. 

2. Strengthen Basic Skills

Use the fluency time during the math lesson to reinforce basic skills. Just remember… speed does not equal understanding. Students may memorize something but not understand it. 

3. Use a Step-by-Step Approach

Creating steps for students to follow when introducing/practicing a concept can be reassuring and comforting. Complex problems can seem daunting but scaffolding the problem with simple steps can be supportive and increase independence. 

4. Develop a Growth Mindset

When a student has a fixed mindset, they believe that their basic abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits. In a growth mindset, however, students believe their abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort, learning, and persistence.

For more information and further resources regarding a growth mindset in math, check out:

5. The Attitude of Teachers

We, as teachers, should show as much enthusiasm for math as we do for reading. We dress up like our favorite book characters, create reading classroom hype, and dedicate almost a third of our day to reading. Therefore, we need to show math a lot of love, as well. Play math games, celebrate math achievement, and share your love of math with your class. 

Mr. Allen Michel
Sixth Grade Math Teacher

Bronx Charter School for Excellence 1

Math, unlike some other subjects, is an exact science, little to no subjectivity involved. So as we prepare for upcoming tests, here are a couple of tips to consider to help you perform your best.

When answering multiple choice word problems, read the question and all your answer options.  Ask yourself “what is this question asking me to solve?” and “what strategies can I use to solve the problem?” (i.e. proportions). With this understanding, re-read the question and use your “Steps for Excellence” to help eliminate answer options. Employ your strategy or plan of action to determine the appropriate solution.

Once you have employed your strategy and identified your solution, you have one more step, a very important one; Check Your Work. Mistakes happen and in math the smallest mistake can be the difference between correct and incorrect. If you use a calculator, re-input your numbers or formulas and verify whether you get the same solution. If you are solving without a calculator, re-perform your algorithms. Lastly, take one more read of the question and check that you have considered and incorporated the appropriate numbers and strategy to find your solution.  

Ms. Madeline Lyons
Fourth Grade Teacher

Stamford Charter School for Excellence 

1. Be Honest

In teaching, it is always best to be honest with your kids. They know when you’re not being truthful about something or when you are putting on an act. In terms of math, I always talk to my kids about how I struggled with math when I was their age. I tell them that it is normal to struggle, and, even more so, it is expected in math. I usually introduce a new concept to my students by making a connection to myself and when I learned it in (2nd, 3rd, 4th) grade. I feel like taking away the pressure of perfection, the kids are more open to learning something new and being uncomfortable in a new situation. Also, by connecting myself to the situation, they can see that someone can struggle with something at first, and then practice and become better at it! 

2. Practice, Practice, PRACTICE!

I try to incorporate math throughout the entire day, not just during the ‘math block.’ By doing this, the kids are exposed to math more and they can see how it is connected to all the different subjects they are learning. Take advantage of morning work time. Give them practice solving problems during a time of day when there’s “nothing to lose.” I’m not going to be grading this as a math test, so therefore the kids are more likely to give something difficult a shot. Also take advantage of transition time. Bathroom breaks, lining up, & snack and pack are all valuable times of day that can be used. During these times, I have students answer a math question based on what we are learning. It is a fun, quick, and easy way to gain information from your students, and they don’t see it as an “assessment.” 

3. Home & School

The main issue that I run into when teaching math is that parents themselves have math anxiety. They are frustrated and intimidated by the way math is taught today. In order to combat that mindset (and make sure it doesn’t get passed along to their children!) I provide a LOT of resources for parents and always make “cheat sheets” for them to use when helping their kids at home. This gives them the tools they need to support their scholar, and it helps me continue the positive conversation towards math at home!