Teachers Can Spread Math Anxiety To Their Students

Teachers Can Spread Math Anxiety To Their Students

In a 2009 study, psychologists studied 17 female first- and second-grade teachers to determine how anxious they were about doing math. They kept an eye on the math scores of these teachers' students, testing them in the third month of the school year and again at the year's end. What they found was striking: at the beginning of the year, the teachers' math anxiety level had no effect on their students' scores. But at the end of the school year, the girls' scores were significantly lower while the boys' scores had stayed roughly the same. They did similar tests regarding the students' beliefs in traditional gender stereotypes -- that is, the idea that boys are better at math and girls are better at reading. At the end of the year, the female students were much more likely to believe that stereotype, which correlated with their lower math scores. This study makes it clear that to make students confident in math, we need teachers who are confident in math. But how do we do that? According to UC Berkeley professor Edward Frenkel, we need to teach math more like we teach art: in a creative, approachable way that exposes students to the great masters instead of obsessing over individual problems.

09:18

Key Facts In This Video

  • 1

    If an art class only taught you how to paint a fence and never showed you paintings of the masters, you would probably not become a lover of art. This is how most math is taught. (0:13)

  • 2

    "Mathematics is essential to our freedom and the function of our democracy." (2:57)

  • 3

    Science should be communicated in a way that links to something that people already know. (5:28)

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