Overcome math anxiety? Count on it, says Shire

Published on: June 2, 2024

Overcome math anxiety? Count on it, says Shire

Elizabeth Shire is a soon-to-be-published math major who wants to teach. Her pragmatic paper investigates why middle school students fear math and how to relieve their anxiety.

Of course, the actual title of her paper is a bit more academic: "An investigation of the determinants of middle school math students' motivation and success." It was recently accepted for publication in The Journal of Multidisciplinary Research.

Shire has been working on this paper for more than a year with guidance from Dr. Ryan Savitz and his father, Dr. Fred Savitz. Together, the younger and elder Savitz have more than 40 years of professorial experience.

“Dr. [Ryan] Savitz helped me secure a Clare Boothe Luce grant for the summer of 2023, and I’ve been working on the research ever since,” says Shire. “More recently, I’ve had two professionals there to support me with back-and-forth open communication.”

She admits that measuring motivation is difficult, but she did find research that indicates how students approach the study of math, and the findings aren’t pretty. She sums up the trend succinctly: “If you think ‘I really suck at this,’ you’re not very motivated.”

The approach she recommends is to face the fear, to recognize it, and tell middle school students that anxiety about learning math is normal.

Her instructional suggestions include teaching students according to their individual learning styles, creating connections to other subjects to make math more relatable, and emphasizing working memory (the ability to learn something, reflect on it, and apply it to a later concept).

According to the paper’s executive summary, “This article addresses a twofold dilemma often found in secondary mathematics classrooms: a lack of motivation and a lack of achievement. The following investigation presents a concise yet flexible model for enhancing mathematics instruction, particularly at the middle school level. designed to optimize both student motivation and achievement.”

Shire, 22, graduated on May 18 with secondary education certification. She plans to do substitute teaching until she takes the Praxis examination in June and then look for a full-time job.

According to the website of The Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, the journal “seeks to publish authors who strive to produce original, insightful, interesting, important, and theoretically solid research. Demonstration of a significant ‘value-added’ contribution to a field’s understanding of an issue or topic is crucial to acceptance for publication.”





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