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Math Anxiety: Addressing the Challenge in Low-Resource Schools

Math anxiety is a pervasive issue affecting all age groups. An article published by the US Department of Education found that math anxiety is particularly subject to gender and racial stereotypes, but it is also a factor for people due to their socio-economic status. Students affected by many of these circumstances often attend low-resource schools.

Understanding the Effects of Math Anxiety

Students with math anxiety may find that it extends beyond the math classroom, potentially hindering the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are integral in a broad range of subjects. One study shows that math anxiety can affect daily decisions outside the classroom.
For example, they may be consumed by negative thoughts and apprehension, distracting them from their focus and ability to grasp mathematical concepts. It can also stifle their intellectual curiosity and eagerness to explore other subjects. Math anxiety may even foster a negative attitude toward education, instilling a deep-seated belief in one’s inadequacy in handling complex topics and affecting one's confidence and performance in all academic areas.
Consequently, addressing math anxiety is vital for fostering mathematical proficiency and nurturing well-rounded learners capable of approaching diverse learning opportunities with confidence and enthusiasm.

Math Anxiety in Low-Resourced Schools

Several factors contribute to math anxiety in low-resource schools:

Limited Resources

Schools lacking materials and staffing face enormous challenges in meeting all students' needs. Students may fall behind, exacerbating math anxiety.

Low Expectations

When educators have low expectations, students may internalize defeatist attitudes about math abilities, increasing anxiety.

Unhelpful Mindsets

Students who believe math ability is fixed and predetermined experience more math anxiety.

Negative Experiences

Past difficulties, insensitive teachers, or math-phobic peers can instill deep anxiety about math.

Lack of Specialized Programs and Teachers

Without access to specialized teaching techniques or teachers trained in alleviating math anxiety, it’s more challenging to address the issue directly.

Limited Technology and Materials

A lack of technology and materials that can make math more approachable instead of abstract and intimidating for some students.

Overcrowded Classrooms

Packed classrooms give teachers less time for individualized instruction. Students who need more help can fall behind, increasing their anxiety.

Strategies to Overcome Math Anxiety

Implementing strategies to overcome math anxiety is essential to nurturing a positive learning environment. Despite challenges, educators can take steps to reduce math anxiety. Overcoming entrenched math anxiety requires sustained effort, but small interventions can help anxious students build skills and confidence over time. With compassion and commitment, educators can make math a source of strength, not fear.

Here are a few strategies that can be effective:

Promote a Growth Mindset

Instilling a growth mindset can help students view challenges as opportunities for growth rather than threats. Teaching students that brains grow and math skills develop with effort by praising hard work over inherent “talent” makes students more resilient to setbacks.

Break Skills into Manageable Steps

Offer concrete models and representations. Combine this approach with small group support to help students grasp concepts.

Use Real-Life Examples

Connecting math to real-life situations students can relate to makes it less abstract and more accessible.

Encourage Peer Tutoring

Students often benefit from explaining concepts to each other. It’s an approach that reinforces knowledge for the tutor and also makes students feel more comfortable to ask questions.

Focus on Positive Reinforcement

Positive feedback can boost a student’s confidence. Instead of focusing on wrong answers, highlight what they did right and their improvement.

Provide Safe Spaces

Create environments where students feel safe making mistakes and asking questions without fear of ridicule.

Incorporate the Use of Games and Apps

Games and apps can provide low-stakes practice in engaging, interactive formats to build confidence and skills.

Offer Professional Development for Teachers

Providing teachers with professional development opportunities can equip them with the tools to help students manage and conquer math anxiety.


Get the Tools and Resources You Need

The National Math and Science Initiative offers curriculum supports, coaching and resources to help bolster teachers’ skills. We help build strong communities of educators who work together, practice together and reflect on their teaching and the needs of their students. The programs and support offered by NMSI are designed to meet educators at the intersections where help is needed to become high-quality teachers who deliver better student outcomes.