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Tackling learners’ and teachers’ mathematics anxiety

Researcher Davide Penazzi has developed new methods to teach mathematics and so combat ‘Mathematical Anxiety’. This is a condition which creates tension and worry preventing many children, students and adults from becoming competent at maths.

Sufferers often avoid any kind of mathematical activity and choose careers where mathematical skills are not required. Using the method of ‘learning by experience’ students worked together to solve problems, and this was found to assist reflection and to foster a more tenacious approach to mathematics. This then allowed them to gain insights into the mathematical aspects of the problems they collectively solved.

Penazzi used these methods to support the engagement of pupils with mathematics in the West African country of Benin which suffers a loss of skills through emigration. The focus was to create a critical mass of trained teachers to deliver the specific support required to help motivate students and counteract their Mathematical Anxiety. A partnership with Servime, a local Non-Governmental Organisation and four primary schools, helped to roll out the training programme. The work has positively affected student attainment and the perception of maths by both students and their teachers.

In the UK, Penazzi has delivered Experiential Mathematical Activities (EMAs) in several schools and trained teachers in creating and facilitating such events. Consequently, teachers report lower levels of mathematical anxiety in their students, who perform better and are more engaged with the subject. UK teachers involved in the intervention said they will start implementing Experiential Mathematical Activities in their practice and use the problem-solving activities to generate greater, stress-free interest in maths in the future.

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