This is a guest post by Jill Cornish, Editorial Director, Primary Maths, Oxford University Press

Maths anxiety is a huge issue across the UK from early childhood into adulthood. National Numeracy have found that across the UK four in five adults have a low level of numeracy and individuals earn less when they are less numerate .

Everyone involved in influencing education has a role to play in tackling maths anxiety, from teachers and families at home to media and government. Maths anxiety can be contagious. Parents and carers who aren’t confident with maths themselves often inadvertently pass on these feelings to their own children, creating a cycle of negativity around maths.

As part of Oxford University Press’s Positive About Numbers campaign, we recently ran a series of teacher-led hackathons with primary schools across the country. These were designed to give teachers a safe space to share their experiences of maths anxiety in the classroom and start to pool ideas about practical ways to reduce it.

Amongst other issues, bringing together this wealth of professional insight highlighted the importance of taking a holistic approach to tackling maths anxiety across the classroom and at home. While many teachers are aware of the challenges and potential impact of maths anxiety, parents and carers may not have the background or resources to help their children overcome this barrier to learning. This is why collaboration between school and home is so crucial.

It’s important not to add more pressure or overwhelm families who may already feel nervous about maths. The hackathons identified many light-touch ways teachers can support families to be confident about helping children develop a positive maths attitude. It could be as simple as signposting trusted resources for learning at home, or encouraging families to introduce gameified elements of maths, for example through puzzles and quizzes. Small changes at home can make a big difference to young learners’ attitude to maths over time.

Teachers who took part in the hackathons also highlighted the importance for children of making meaningful links between maths and everyday life. Cooking with the family at home or keeping score in games can engage young children with maths in a way that really brings it to life.

One of the main challenges for teachers is that maths anxiety is not always easy to spot. It can be displayed in many different ways depending on the child and these presentations are not always obviously linked with maths anxiety. Some children may openly copy or make up answers, some may be unusually quiet, other may act up and be disruptive in the classroom. This challenge is even greater for parents and carers who don’t see their children in a structured learning setting. This makes open communication between school and home even more important.

To support teachers and families we’ve pulled together helpful tips and advice from the Positive About Numbers hackathons and combined them into a toolkit with easy-to-use learning resources for the classroom and home. The toolkit has lots of practical ways for teachers to start to address maths anxiety in their lessons, alongside ideas to engage parents and carers with their children’s maths development at home too.

Working together, we really can inspire children to be positive about numbers from an early age.

Please see more details on #Positiveaboutnumbers here, and download a free toolkit with some great ideas for teachers that brings together tips and learnings from the teachers who contributed to the Positive About Numbers hackathon events.

[1] Data sources: Skills for Life 2011PIAAC 2014; National Numeracy YouGov Survey 2014

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