Math Anxiety Shown to Activate Brain’s Pain Networks

Even for a swimmer the prospect of having to swim across the ocean would create a great deal of stress – perhaps even enough to trigger physical pain. It’s natural to feel stress and anxiety when we are confronted with tasks that are beyond our abilities. So why should we be surprised at the attached article’s assertion that severe math anxiety can actually induce physical pain in schoolchildren?

As parents, we have to take responsibility.  We have set our children up to experience this pain because our traditional educational system does not adequately prepare them for advanced problem solving, and then we expect them to excel despite serious gaps in their knowledge, skills and abilities. When they coast through elementary school math having only memorized facts and without ever having been challenged, we foolishly assume they are geniuses. Then at the end of middle school, when they are finally confronted with math that requires more logical and abstract thinking, rather than encouraging them to puzzle through it, we rush in to spare their egos with statements like: “I don’t do math either,” or “math is difficult for me too.”

To compound the problem, the math curriculum in the lower grades is being taught primarily by teachers who do not have degrees in mathematics themselves. When people who lack a solid math background teach young children, they transfer their fears and insecurities about the subject on to their students.

Children cannot learn in an environment when such anxiety is present.  This is not learning. This is torture for students and their parents. So, it is essential that parents address their children’s math anxiety at the first sign of it; and the right learning environment is the key.   In an ideal learning environment, each child has the opportunity to excel in any subject at their own pace. Yes, math should provide enough challenging exercises for child’s brain development, but it should be within a child’s reach, not outside of it.

Our observation has been that when children are taught a challenging math curriculum starting with elementary school by well-trained, enthusiastic teachers, math anxiety can be avoided and children start viewing problem solving as an enjoyable activity. The key is to start early and be exposed to a very strong curriculum. Three years in this environment and our students solve problems two grade levels ahead of their classmates. Best of all, we see the self-confidence they build throughout the process extending beyond the classroom to all other aspects of their lives. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/02/math-anxiety-pain-brain_n_2066783.html

By: Irina Khavinson   Irina Khavinson

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