Why do children struggle with math confidence?
It’s not surprising that people who grow up in a culture that values anti-maths sentiment rarely have confidence in their mathematical abilities. Some people are content to write off their mathematical skills and say they “can’t do it”. They keep maths at arm’s length and are proud to have no connection to it – being asked on the spot questions like “What is 7 x 8?” is their worst nightmare! Without a strong mathematical foundation, many adults are disadvantaged and vulnerable.
As Jo Boaler says in her excellent book, “The Elephant in the Classroom,”
Most children find mathematics to be a difficult and frustrating subject. It is often the case that their confidence is shattered and they are discouraged from learning important life skills because of it.
Where does this maths phobia stem from?
Most people with a fear of math have had negative experiences with math that have caused them embarrassment or humiliation. They may have experienced math failure, picked up negative attitude about math from their peers or family, or had insensitive teachers.
Learn about the phenomenon of maths anxiety and how it can impact learning, as well as strategies to address it and help children become more confident in maths.
10 Teaching strategies for building children’s confidence in math’s
1. Encourage mistake-making
In order for children to be successful, they need to feel confident about talking through concepts and making mistakes along the way. It is important to encourage them to discuss their ideas, so providing safe and secure contexts are vital.
A math concept cartoon is a type of drawing that uses a cartoon-style to illustrate different perspectives about a mathematical concept. These drawings often lead to debates and discussions among children so that they can share their ideas. For example,
By using concept cartoons, children can overcome their anxiety towards mathematics by developing positive behaviour and responses. They can overcome obstacles to learning, persevere through difficult problems, and accept that making mistakes is a part of the learning process. This approach to mathematics encourages children to take risks and to argue their point of view, developing mathematical resilience.
Valuing different ways of thinking and acknowledging all contributions positively can help us use mistakes as a springboard to new understanding.
Making mistakes in a safe environment can actually make you perform better. Also, keep in mind that math isn’t just a subject that is taught by itself–it’s present in other subjects too. So whenever you’re teaching another subject, try to also incorporate math as much as possible.
2. Dispel maths myths
Having a fixed mindset about math–that you’re either good or bad at it–isn’t helpful because it doesn’t take into account the potential to grow and improve one’s math skills. Every child has the potential to be good at math with the right effort.
In order to create a positive math environment in your classroom, be aware of any negative talk about math and try to counter it. Make sure to praise each child for their individual strengths in math so they believe in themselves. Also, remind them that everyone is good at different things and that everyone has something valuable to contribute when working on math problems.
3. Create a love for maths
Teachers who are very enthusiastic about maths often inspire children to become very interested in the subject. They help children to see that they can do maths and they can think mathematically.
Teachers who are passionate about math help children to question, challenge and reflect by creating an atmosphere of positivity. They nurture curiosity, they structure their investigative potential and they build self-assurance.
For example; animation through voice and body can bring maths to life. Drama and role-play can bring maths to life. Humour, jokes and use of props can bring maths to life. Suspense and surprise can bring maths to life. The creative use of classroom space can bring maths to life. Music, songs and dance can bring maths to life.
songs about multiplication are great for getting kids interested in math, and for helping them develop a love of math. They let kids take charge and feel like they are a part of the math. For example, take a look at Percy Parker; www.percyparker.com
4. Keep it open
Mathematics is commonly seen as a subject with right or wrong answers, сwhereas in reality, it is much more than that. Maths provides many opportunities for exploring open-ended investigations, which shows how vibrant, dynamic and rich of a subject it can be.
Here are some open-ended activity ideas:
Why not try an activity where children have to find the odd one out from a list of numbers or shapes? This could be done as a balloon debate: A hot air balloon is losing height, and children have to decide which numbers in the basket should be asked to leave!
You could try activity statements that are either true or false presented as ‘always, sometimes and never’ statements. For example, “Multiplying a number always makes it bigger”. Ask children to discover, debate, and discuss these statements.
You can take a free trial of Busy Things to explore all of their curriculum-linked activities here.
5. Provide space and time
Maths has a speed limit because if you try to race through topics, you will miss a lot and might not do well. It is better to explore, be surprised, and practice so that you can build confidence in maths.
The 10/2 ‘Chunk, Chew and Check’ strategy:
One strategy you can employ is the 10/2 ‘Chunk, Chew and Check’ strategy; a way of teaching that has been found to be highly effective in supporting understanding of concepts big and small. It works like this:
- You break lesson information or content down into manageable ‘chunks’ and allow time for children to ‘chew’ or digest the material.
- Children receive 10 minutes of rich teaching input and deep content (listening, watching, reading etc.)
- Children are then given 2 minutes to chew and digest the content sharing with a classmate or writing notes individually.
- You check that everyone understands before moving on.
6. Play games
Mathematical games are a must-have because they can help make math more engaging, fun, and motivating for kids.
They provide opportunities for practice and when played repeatedly, games can support the development of computational fluency and build a deeper understanding of concepts and processes.
Games provide a safe environment to experiment and make mistakes without real-world consequences. This allows players to learn and improve their skills without having to worry about failure.
You could go one step further and ask children to create their own maths games, or adapt the rules of an existing game, like Snakes and Ladders.
The website Nrich, which is run by the University of Cambridge, has a lot of great tasks that are perfect for kids of all ages and abilities.
The Busy Things website is full of great games and activities that are educational, fun, and engaging for early years and primary key stage 1 and 2. Make sure you take a free Busy Things trial to explore all the resources they have to offer.
7. Make maths visible
Maths displays can help stimulate curiosity and positive learning in the classroom.
Displays that are interactive and engaging, with bright colors, will help children remember and understand mathematics. Although commercial posters have their uses, displays made by the children’s own class can provide a more three-dimensional and personal experience. Keep the displays interesting by changing them regularly throughout the term.
Why not have a shape of the week and number of the week? This way, they can take center stage on a display board. Children can place questions and statements around them and investigate their properties.
Shape and number boards that are alive are great ways to get children interested in mathematics. By making them noticeable in class, you are improving their thinking and understanding both consciously and subconsciously.
Using QR codes in your classroom displays:
If you want to make your displays more interactive and enriching, you can add QR codes. For example, you can print QR codes next to questions, such as how many factors does this number have? Children can guess the answer and then scan the code to see if they are correct. You can also display an investigation question and a QR code linking to websites or resources to help children find a solution.
You could provide children with a set of data and a QR code that would take them to an online graphing resource. This way, they could create their own graphs. Also, children could create their own maths problems and post them online (e.g. on a website, audio, or video). Their classmates could then scan the QR code and try to solve the problem.
You can display children’s mathematical work on a wall for everyone to see. This could be a combination of the children’s actual work and pictures of them actively involved in their own mathematical learning. If there is not enough room to show everything, you could use a QR code to link to an online display of their work. For more information about QR codes, go to www.iteach-uk.com/resource/useful-things/qr-codes#.WbejjdVSyUk.
8. Feedback and feed forward
Timely feedback that is specific to what a child is doing right or wrong can help to reduce the negative impact of maths anxiety and boost confidence. This is because it can help to address misconceptions, identify weaknesses and plan next steps in learning.
Maths learning is improved when both feedback and feed forward are used to help children revise, practice, and plan ahead. Using both feedback and feed forward helps to ensure that assessment has a positive impact on children’s confidence in maths.
Studies of effective teaching and learning have shown that learners want to know where they stand in relation to their work.
Answering the following four questions on a consistent basis will help you provide quality feedback…
- What can the learner do?
- What can’t the learner do?
- How does the learner’s work compare with that of others?
- How can the learner do better?
Feedback has to be immediate, targeted, concrete, action oriented, and confidence building.
A good way to teach children how to give feedback is to model it for them and then have them do it with their peers. Teach them to identify what makes a piece of work good and to find examples (WAGOLL) of this.
9. Visit a science centre
Children can explore and discover different things at science centres and museums that they will remember for a long time.
If you’re looking for inspiration, visit The Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) website. ASDC is a UK-based organization that brings together over 60 of the country’s major science engagement organizations.
10. Meet a maths hero
There are hundreds of inspiring maths maestros, both past and present, that we can introduce children to.
You can introduce children to adults who work in STEAM occupations by inviting them to come into school and talk about their jobs and how maths helps them in their work.
What are the different ways that students can show engagement? Student engagement can be shown in different ways depending on the situation. For example, a student might take notes and answer questions during a lecture to show engagement. Another student might doodle and listen to the lecture instead of taking notes, and this would also be considered a form of engagement. The key is that the student is still involved in the learning process in some way.
Disengagement from learning can manifest in many ways, such as lack of effort, attention, or motivation. It can also look like disruptive behavior or apathy. Disengagement can have a number of causes, such as boredom, frustration, or feeling like one isn’t capable of succeeding. Whatever the cause, disengagement can have a negative impact on learning. Here are a few examples:
- Refusing or avoiding to complete assigned tasks.
- Consistent poor school attendance.
- Ignoring questions.
- Putting head down in class.
- Avoiding assignments or activities that are perceived as challenging.
- Turning in work that isn’t completed.
Understanding Reluctant Learners
There are many reasons why students might be reluctant to learn or complete work in school. Some students might feel like they’re not good at school and feel discouraged. Others might not see the point of school and feel like it’s a waste of their time. Some students might be having trouble at home and feel like school is just another place where they’re not succeeding. There are many reasons why students might be disengaged and unmotivated in school, but with the right support, they can succeed.
- They are bored with the class, or feel the content isn’t important in their life.
- They are hungry or tired.
- They are coping with other social-emotional struggles in their life.
- They lack connection with the teacher and/or students in the class.
- They don’t want to look stupid in front of others.
The reasons given are just a few examples and not meant to be exhaustive. We also may not always understand the reasons for reluctant learners. However, educators can still use the same strategies to engage them.