Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why is math anxiety in preservice teachers worrisome?

By Marianne Wesseling

Why do we need math?   
How does it benefit us?
What kind of impact do you think an anxious teacher might have on their classroom?

Mathematics knowledge and understanding is becoming increasingly important in post secondary education, job opportunities, and in daily life.

Some teachers believe they will be unable to teach math confidently which has a direct impact on the students they will be teaching (Brady & Bowd, 2005).

In order for students to succeed academically in math at the secondary and post secondary level, they must first have a strong foundation coming out of their elementary classrooms (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2004; U.S. Department of Education, 2006).

            There have been many studies comparing preservice teacher mathematics anxiety and math teaching efficacy and the results are the same each time.  One thing researchers all agree on is the fact that preservice teachers who have high math anxiety levels, have low math teacher efficacy (Bursal & Paznokas, 2006; Cady et al., 2007; Gresham, 2008; Swars et al., 2006) .  In other words, most preservice teachers with math anxiety do not feel confident in their ability to teach math effectively in the elementary classroom.  Different aspects of teaching elementary mathematics such as the use of manipulatives and methods of instruction will be investigated to discover exactly which parts of teaching math are causing preservice teachers anxiety.

            Mathematics manipulatives are becoming increasingly important to provide elementary students with hands on learning.  Counting cubes, geometric shapes, coins, clocks, pattern blocks, tangrams, geoboards, spinners and counters are just some of the manipulatives available to aid students visually and kinetically while making abstract concepts concrete.  In a study by Swars (2005), it was concluded that preservice teachers with low mathematics teacher efficacy “expressed concerns about the use of manipulatives as a teaching and learning aid in the mathematics classroom” (p. 145).  However, after conducting a study in 2006, Swars et al. determined that “all of the preservice teachers expressed a strong sense of efficaciousness towards the use of real life situations and manipulatives in mathematics” (p. 313).  This could be due to the positive experience they were able to have with them in their methods course.  Gresham (2008), found that while some preservice teachers were initially unsure and stressed at having to learn how to use manipulatives, all 20 of the preservice teachers in her study, “regardless of their level of mathematics anxiety were comfortable with and enjoyed teaching with manipulatives” (p. 179) after learning how to use them in their methods course.

            It is encouraging to see that preservice teachers suffering from math anxiety gain confidence in using manipulatives after being provided instruction on how to use them in their methods course.  However, with manipulatives being a growing trend, it is worrisome that not all preservice teachers will be provided with this instruction and are entering elementary schools with fear and anxiety over the thought of implementing manipulatives in their lessons.  It has become accepted that manipulatives are an excellent way to make math real for students by utilizing concrete objects to solve problems or demonstrate abstract concepts.  Their usefulness however, will be negated if preservice teachers are unfamiliar with them and are anxious at the thought of implementing them in their lessons.

            Math anxiety in preservice teachers becomes apparent when they fear having to instruct math in general.  Through a study on preservice teachers suffering from math anxiety, Uusimaki et al. (2004), discovered that out of 18 participants, 48% felt most anxious when having to communicate their mathematical knowledge while 33% felt most anxious when faced with the fear of not being able to solve a problem correctly.  Preservice teachers must have confidence in their abilities in elementary math.  A study by Liu (2008), found a sizeable number of preservice teachers felt anxious about mathematics instruction because they lacked conceptual understanding of math.  A lack of mathematics understanding and content knowledge will most likely lead to a fear of not only teaching ineffectively but incorrectly as well.  

My other posts on Math Anxiety
Mathematics Anxiety in Preservice Teachers: An Overview 
Symptoms of Mathematics Anxiety
The Effects of Mathematics Anxiety
Why is Mathematics Anxiety in Preservice Teachers Worrisome? 
Where Does Mathematics Anxiety in Preservice Teachers Stem From?
What Strategies Can Be Provided to Preservice Teachers to Decrease Mathematics Anxiety?
The Power of Positivity 
Examining Learning Styles
Why Use Manipulatives? 
Mathematics in Children's Literature 

Brady, P. & Bowd, A. (2005). Mathematics Anxiety, Prior Experience and Confidence to Teach Mathematics among Pre-Service Education Students. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 11(1), 37-46. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ821336) Retrieved May 12, 2009, from Eric Database.
Bursal, M., Paznokas, L. (2006). Mathematics Anxiety and Preservice Elementary Teachers' Confidence to Teach Mathematics and Science. School Science and Mathematics, 106(4), 173-180.  Abstract retrieved July 8, 2008, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1152027251).
Cady, J. & Rearden, K. (2007). Pre-Service Teachers’ Beliefs about Knowledge, Mathematics, and Science.  School Science and Mathematics, 107(6), 237.  Retrieved May 27, 2009, from Platinum Periodicals database. (Document ID: 1517891781).
Gresham, G. (2008). Mathematics Anxiety and Mathematics Teacher Efficacy in Elementary Pre-Service Teachers. Teaching Education, 19(3), 171-184. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ811912) Retrieved May 12, 2009, from ERIC database.
Liu, F. (2008). Impact of Online Discussion on Elementary Teacher Candidates’ Anxiety Towards Teaching Mathematics. Education, 128(4), 614-629. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ816949) Retrieved February 16, 2009 from Eric Database.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2004). Teaching and Learning Mathematics – The Report of the Expert Panel on Mathematics in Grades 4 to 6 in Ontario.  Retrieved May 14, 2009, from
Swars, S.L., Daane, C.J., & Giesen, J. (2006). Mathematics Anxiety and Mathematics Teacher Efficacy: What is the Relationship in Elementary Preservice Teachers? School Science and Mathematics, 106(7), 306.  Retrieved July 6, 2008, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1305568341).
Swars, S.L. (2005). Examining Perceptions of Mathematics Teaching Effectiveness among Elementary Preservice Teachers with Differing Levels of Mathematics Teacher Efficacy. Journal of Instructional Psychology,32(2), 139-147. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ774152) Retrieved July 6, 2008 from Eric Database.
U.S. Department of Education. (2006). Math Now: Advancing Math Education in Elementary and Middle School.  Retrieved May 14, 2009 from
Uusimaki, L., & Nason, R. (2004).  Causes Underlying Pre-Service Teachers’ Negative Beliefs and Anxieties about Mathematics.  International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. (ERIC Document # ED489664) Retrieved January 5, 2009 from ERIC database.

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