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Mathematics Anxiety

For as long as there are people on earth, mathematics is here to stay and mathematics anxiety is something people must learn to deal with (Pinno, 1996).

Tobias describes math anxiety as a feeling of sudden death as “an obsession with the idea that everyone knows that i don’t understand; I’d better not draw attention to myself by asking serious math avoidance and math phobia (Tobias, 1978). Math anxiety usually arises from a lack of confidence when working on mathematical situations.

Math anxiety is defined in a variety of ways.

Richardson and Suinn(1972)suggests that mathematics anxiety involves feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic equations. Hodges (1983) differentiates between math anxiety and mathopobia. She believes that failure in mathematics leads to frustration, and the students then develop “math anxiety.” the result is a not too-common illness: mathopobia. A succinct description of math anxiety, which will be used interchangeably in this research, is that it is both emotional and cognitive dread of mathematics (Hodges, 1983 Reyes 1980; Seguin 1984; Tobias, 1976, 1978).

Causes of Math Anxiety

Miller (1997) points out that math anxiety usually comes from negative experiences in working with teachers, tutors, classmates, parents or siblings. At other times, anxiety comes from stress or a personal problem that was going on at the same time one is learning a particular concept. In this case, that person associates math with whatever is going on at that time.

Some common symptoms of math anxiety include cold hands, an upset stomach, and a blank mind. Many experts believe math anxiety is often the result of a traumatic childhood math experience (Webb, 1998).

Math anxiety often results when students try to randomly learn just the “math facts “as separate bits of information. When students have no landmarks, they recall each ‘math fact’ independently. If information is forgotten, a student has no strategy or structure to recover or reconstruct it. Anxiety increases. Students loose initiatives and the confidence to take the next step to expand their knowledge. Without a solid foundation, math is avoided and becomes a downward spiral leading to math anxiety as early as third grade (Miller, 1997).

In addition, math anxiety resulting from feelings of helplessness, e.g., in problem solving, there is a lack of opportunity outside the classroom to practice math. Hodges (1983) argues that failure or success in mathematics maybe related to individual learning styles and more specifically with the coupling of learning styles with the way in which material is presented, rather than with the subject matter itself. Dunn’s (1986) research on learning styles supports the contentions of Hodges (1983). William (1988) stated that most math anxiety has its roots in the students and the teaching of mathematics. Since people generally are not math anxious before going to school, an examination of the previous thought-provoking statement will show it to be, sadly, well founded. The symptoms and causes of math anxiety, and preventive measures that teachers can use to alleviate the stress some students experience in mathematics problem solving. The symptoms of math anxiety can include nausea, a hot tingling feeling, extreme nervousness, an inability to hear the teachers, a tendency to become upset by noises, an inability to concentrate, negative self-talk, a stomach ache, and sweaty palms. Causes of math anxiety may include under preparedness, school absences, parents perpetuating the myth that math ability is hereditary, and negative past experiences with teachers (Godbey, 1997).

Characteristics of Mathematics Anxiety

Sovchik (1996) observed that students who are extremely cautious often do extremely neat work, are afraid to take a moderate risk, and seem to be unable to solve problems when something unique or creative is needed. Obviously, some neatness in mathematical work is necessary, but when this becomes the end rather than the means, it can result a learning problem. Students exhibiting mathematics anxiety may be able to recall basic facts well or perform rote-learning tasks such as copying numerals, but they invariably have difficulty with problem solving in mathematics. Some students receive little or no support system at home. Separation and divorce may emotionally affect students in an adverse manner. However, even when both parents are living in the home, rejection may also occur when parenting skills are lacking. Mathematics anxiety can be caused by a gap between expectations and realistic talents. Throughout one’s life, one may become anxious about achieving certain goals, and in some cases such anxiety increases as it becomes apparent that one may not have the talent or skill needed to achieve those goals. Compulsive behaviors are non-task-related and may direct the persons’ activity in a negative manner. For example, some mathematics students have been observed arranging their multicolored pencils in various ways during a mathematics exam. Likewise, students who make a ritual of studying for mathematics exam by spending most of their time finding the right kind of paper, sharpening pencils, setting up and cleaning their desks, and so on are also exhibiting compulsive behavior. Sovchik (1996) found out that low self-esteem is characterized by such comments, as “I’ve never been able to score well on a mathematics test.” Students with low self-esteem often indulge in a kind of substitute learning; that is, instead of attending to mathematical tasks, they repeat and relearn phrases such as “I can’t do it.” This negative self-talk intrudes on the learning of mathematics. Also teachers need to avoid humiliating students with mathematics. For example, a child with low self-esteem should ask to say the multiplication tables in front of the class. Humiliation can make mathematics learning seem like punishment, and harmful learning effects may be observed later.

Effects of Math Anxiety on Mathematics Performance Hembree (1990) computed the mean effects comparing the post-treatment test performance of treated and untreated subjects. The largest increase referred to the treatment providing the largest mathematics anxiety reduction, that is, to behavioral treatments. The cognitive modifications that had emphasized confidence building produced both moderate mathematics anxiety reductions and moderate increases in test performance. Wooden (1992) found out that the male group appears to be less influenced by any of the cognitive variables in development of mathematics anxiety and only by sequential ability in development of mathematics achievement. They are more influenced by the affective perceptual domains in development of mathematics anxiety (persistence and verbal orientation). Schonwetter (1995) presented a paper that examined the effects of gender and test anxiety on students’ achievement, cognition, and effects, with an interest in exploring why some students are less likely to benefit from classroom instruction than others. The data came from a western Canadian University study of 424 undergraduate students. Results indicated that gender and test anxiety differentially influenced students’ learning and learning-related outcomes. Low-test anxious males showed higher achievement outcomes, perceived more success over their performances, and felt more confident than high test-anxious males or females. The results extend previous research and are discussed in terms of their practical applications of college teaching. Hembree (1990) gave mean correlations between mathematics anxiety and measures of students’ performance. Higher mathematics anxiety was slightly related to lower IQ levels, whereas its relationship with verbal ability was so low that it was not practical importance. Correlations between mathematics anxiety consistently related to lower mathematics performance.

Strategies for Coping with Mathematics Anxiety Math anxiety intervention programs generally fall into three categories (Williams, 1988): Math-dominated interventions. These programs focus on teaching the content of mathematics and assume that the more mathematics people understand the less math anxiety they will have. A study (Reyes, 1980) using the math-dominated approach verified this relation and concluded that increased competence in mathematics was accompanied by reduced math anxiety. Anxiety management trailing, desensitization, and support groups. Intervention programs in this category focused on teaching people to deal effectively with anxiety itself. Trained counselors play a dominant role in such interventions(Dueball, 1982) reported studies that attempted to compare some of these approaches, but with data not actually comparable, no conclusions were drawn as to which of the counselor-dominated approaches was most effective. Combinations of Approaches. These programs use a combination of the above two approaches. The well publicized (Tobias, 1978) mathematics anxiety clinic at Wesleyan University is of this type. Intervention programs are generally used in the treatment of post-secondary students and adults who suffer from math anxiety. Suinn (1984) easily administered and easily scored Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS) is touted in Test Critiques as “the best instrument for measuring mathematics anxiety that is currently available” (Liabre, 1984). MARS is used primarily in colleges and universities by counselors, therapists, and psychologists in the treatment of math anxiety. There is a version of the MARS-A, for students in high school. The Fennema-Sherman mathematics Anxiety Scale (Fennema, 1976) is also widely used to measure math anxiety. Morris (1981) suggested that teachers must take time to listen intently while a student asks a question, and respond with a willingness to explain. This will create an atmosphere in which students feel at ease in asking questions. The math anxious is especially sensitive to criticism and would rather sit through a whole class without understanding than to risk ridicule by asking a “dumb” question. Teaching requires seemingly infinite patience, and student questions can be especially taxing. When frustrations takes over, we sometimes respond with comments like “But I just explained that” or “You should have learned that in the fifth grade.” Such comments can inhibit students by making them unwilling to risk question. A prime characteristic of a low self-concept is a reluctance to take risks. A teacher should provide a climate in which taking risks is perceived as acceptable. One way to do this is to encourage educated guessing (“How big a number do you think the answer will be?” “Can you guess a rule for this?”). Allow a number of guesses, record them all, and give them comparable consideration in the final determination of the answer. Be liberal and regular with positive reinforcement for thoughtful guessing and perseverance.

According to William (1988), a classroom teacher can help lessen or prevent math anxiety in some students in the following ways: Accommodate various styles; make math relevant; Examine the classroom atmosphere to determine if students are freely asking questions’ provide for positive math experiences; use games that require original thinking, intuition, and build confidence; Do not be afraid to let students see you make mistake. Driscoll (1981) found that effective mathematics teachers not only offer many examples, but also model problem solving and logical thinking in their instruction.

Morris (1981) illustrated how to reduce tension pressure in mathematics classes. Mathematics tends to lend itself to being taught with procedures that unnecessarily build tension and pressure in some students. For example, consider timed test. Many, especially the anxious, tend to freeze up under time pressure. He suggests minimizing or even eliminate tests, as it does not serve their purposes. It should be less threatening forms of evaluation. Tests should refrain from isolating a student at the blackboard. Instead ,“mathematics by committee,” should be adopted, where students work cooperatively on problems. Working together in small groups is less threatening, and learning is often deeper, since students are explaining to each other and thinking aloud (Lovell, 1972). Also there is a need to eliminate running show-of-hands competitions for answer and class contests that openly compare one student with another. Many students are particularly distressed by such practices that create undue pressure and competitiveness and give mathematics class threatening aspects.

Recent study of Hadfield (1992) states that anxiety level is considered in predicting mathematics performance. Students with high mathematics anxiety tend to score lower on mathematics performance than students with low mathematics anxiety. In addition, recent studies reveal that anxiety, attitude, mathematics preparation, perception of mathematics ability, proficiency in calculator use, and gender are significant predictors of mathematics performance (Wilson, 1997).

Theoretical Framework

The cumulative nature of mathematics we find so beautiful and fascinating produces anxiety for many. If a concept is missed, the concepts that build on it are meaningless: nothing seems to make sense. If a student misses the discussion on common denominators, the further work with fractions maybe a complete mystery. A prolonged illness or a move to a new school that results in putting a student behind can have this adverse effect. Doubling assignments in an attempt to catch up will only compound the problem by making the student totally lost and confused. The extra effort and time needed to pick up essential concepts pay dividends later in confidence an achievement in mathematics. Peer tutoring can help when student falls behind or has been absent. These procedures can help both; the tutor understands concepts better by having to explain them, and the learner gains from having an explanation in the words of another student. It can help both feel better about learning mathematics (Morris, 1981).

This study aimed to determine the influence of mathematics anxiety on mathematics performance among first year BSMT students of ST. MTCC, Tigbauan.

The respondents of this study will be the first year BSMT students enrolled in Mathematics I course last first semester. These subjects were believed to have some relationship to academic learning specifically in mathematics performance and the mathematics anxiety.

Independent variable Dependent variable

Mathematics Anxiety

Mathematics Anxiety

Class Sessions

Class Sessions

Academic Performance

Academic Performance

Figure 1. A Schematic Diagram of Analytical Framework

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