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Math Anxiety is it REAL?


The first few weeks back at school  are hectic and daunting, especially for teachers, as they are faced with a room  full of new students that they don’t know much about, and if you’ve changed year level, a whole new wedge of Curriculum. And then there’s the Data!

Data, Data, Data… We have so much data about our students’ mathematics abilities that we are swimming in it but percentages, ticks, crosses & Band levels don’t give us the full picture.

Let me explain… on paper, based on official exams & tests I am classified as successful at mathematics and at a higher than average achievement level, I have even landed my dream job as Numeracy Specialist! But why then do I find myself jelly legged, sweaty palmed & stuttering in public maths situations…? Well after being fortunate enough to have been taught by Dr. Paul Swan, I realise it’s because I suffer from Maths Anxiety which I know is a result of my past maths experiences at school.  I was successful because I learnt how to play the system & I am a  survivor of rote, parrot learning ‘Rithmetic!

Imagine how much more I could have achieved if only…Does this ring true with anyone else out there? Why not share your story  or maths nightmare in the comments below…

So with this in mind my main mission at the beginning of the school year is not only to identify the achievement levels of my students’ & where they sit against the Achievement Standards & Curriculum Content Descriptors, but also identify levels of  Maths anxiety as based on the research it is one of the biggest preventers of achievement.


After a lot of research I found this great article & Maths anxiety test by Helen Freedman (Click image To make it bigger)

maths anxiety

It includes a quick questionnaire & tips & ideas of how to overcome your fears. A great read!


One of the initial maths assessment activities I like to do with my students is a “FIND Someone Who… is a Mathematician” person hunt.


I came up with this idea after using general “getting to know you “Find Someone Who…” activities at the start of the year. These activities are great for everyone to get to know each other but while observing the students during these games I learned a lot more than I bargained for about my students’ interaction, communication & confidence skills & abilities. Based on this I created a “Find Someone Who is a Mathematician… ” activity. It’s a fun & motivating way to identify the varying levels of maths anxiety  as well as the  students’ ability levels.

This activity can be easily adjusted for any year level or sub-strand of the Curriculum including Number & Algebra, Statistics & Probability or Measurement & Geometry. The one I made was for Number & Algebra for Year 1/2/3 . I created a grid  and using curriculum from  the Australian Curriculum  Achievement Standard &  elaborations, Year Level Targets & NAPLAN  I created a problem for each space of the grid.

I also devised questions that would identify common problems & misconceptions including:

‘Find someone who…’ can count on by 1’s starting from 98 to 120 – a great way to see if the children understand the 0-9 sequence & a great way to identify those who still get confused with what happens after 100… 110? or 109….200!


Questions using math words & language such as “Find someone who…’ can draw an array.

Before the hunt started I got the students to complete as many of the questions as they could on their own sheet and at the end during circle time each child nominated a ‘mathematician’ to share what they could do. I then created a poster to display in the class which included everyone & something that they could do, which made everyone feel a bit more confident about maths!



7 thoughts on “Math Anxiety is it REAL?

  1. […] has a very bad reputation and the mere whisper of the word can illicit a huge amount of fear and anxiety in adults & children alike. Math anxiety is a real condition that unfortunately exists in the […]

  2. […] confident student? They may actually know the answer but can’t perform due to huge amounts of stress and anxiety. For these students such activities don’t help their learning but facilitate  math anxiety […]

  3. […] Lin loves math, is passionate about teaching math and has seen how children’s fear of being wrong in math has crushed their spirits. Amy talks about the notion that math is “ish”and […]

  4. […] right ? What we do know is that timed drill tests can actually facilitate extreme, stress, anxiety and a fear of mathematics. Bring in the Growth Mindset philosophy of Carol Dweck whose research  has found that we can grow […]

  5. […] An extensive range of mental strategies ensures students are empowered, confident & positive about solving calculations in their head. Teachers need to plan a Mental Math Program that includes exploration, manipulation & explicit teaching of an extensive range of strategies. Teachers need to emphasise how answers are achieved not focus on speed or the correct answer alone. Rote learning, chanting, memorization & ‘Shoot Outs’ do not help students build a repertoire of mental strategies. These are methods to build automatic recall of number facts & consolidate understanding, but if this approach is the only one used in  mental programs, students can develop severe maths anxiety, dis-empowerment, negative attitudes & even fear! […]

  6. […] these maths teaching strategies to say goodbye to student math anxiety and low engagement and hello to A Plus Teacher Strategies that […]

  7. […] mental maths programs are heavily weighted in rote and recall which causes math anxiety and a fixed mindset about learning maths. Students who experience this type of mental maths […]

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