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Friday, November 16, 2018

How to Help Students Heal From 'Math Trauma' | Teacher Voices - Education Week

A previous version of this piece was published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Timed tests and "drill-and-kill" approaches to math education can leave students with long-lasting anxiety, writes researcher Jennifer Ruef, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at University of Oregon.


Photo: Getty
I teach people how to teach math, and I’ve been working in this field for 30 years. Across those decades, I’ve met many people who suffer from varying degrees of math anxiety. In its worst manifestations, math anxiety becomes what my colleagues and I call math trauma—a form of debilitating mental shutdown when it comes to doing mathematics.

When people share their stories with me, there are common themes. These include someone telling them they were “not good at math,” panicking over timed math tests, or getting stuck on some math topic and struggling to move past it. The topics can be as broad as fractions or an entire class, such as algebra or geometry.

The notion of who is—and isn’t—a math person drives the research I do with my colleagues Shannon Sweeny and Chris Willingham on people earning their teaching degrees...

The myth that fast recall of basic math facts should be drilled into children has deep and pernicious roots. It comes from the best of intentions—who wouldn’t want kids to be good at calculating? But research shows that automaticity (the ability to easily recall facts, like 3 x 5 = 15) is best developed from first making sense of arithmetic operations. In other words, the first step in building a mathematical memory is understanding how that math works.

As an example, the area, array, and equal groups models in the image below represent multiplication and division fact families. These models can help students focus on making sense of the related facts 3 x 5 = 15, 5 x 3 = 15, 15 ÷ 3 = 5, and 15 ÷ 5 = 3. They can be used to assess fact fluency and automaticity.

Skipping the sensemaking step makes for fragile understanding and cognitively expensive memorization. When someone only memorizes, every new fact is like an island unto itself, and is more readily forgotten. In contrast, understanding patterns in math facts compresses the cognitive load required to recall related facts. Sensemaking promotes deep, robust, and flexible understanding, allowing people to apply what they know to new problems.
So what can teachers do to support fact fluency?
Read more... 

Source: Education Week