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					                       THE WH’s OF MATHEMATICS ANXIETY

1) What is Mathematics Anxiety

        Tobias (1978) defined mathematics anxiety as feelings of tension and anxiety that
interfere with the manipulation of numbers and solving of mathematical problems in a wide
variety of ordinary life and academic situasions. Mathematics anxiety can cause one to forget
and lose one‟s self confidence.

        Dreger and Aiken at 1975 investigate the presence of a syndrome of emotional
reactions to mathematics which they designated as number anxiety. Meanwhile, Lazarus
(1974) state that a student may, to a variety of reasons develop an emotional and intellectual
block towards the learning of mathematics in the course of his school years which he further
described as mathematic anxiety and be called as mathphobia, as irritional dread of
mathematics. Lazarus described that a student who has developed an emotional and
intellectual block against mathematics finds that making progress in mathematics and closely
related fields is very difficult. Such a student actively turns away from mathematics and
rapidly develops a fatalistic attitude about mathematics, fully expecting to do badly.

        Furthermore, Lindquist (1981) described mathematics anxiety as involving feelings of
tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of
mathematical problems in a wide variety of ordinary life or learning situations. In addition,
Linquist states that mathematic anxiety can prevent students from doing their best from
passing fundamental mathematics courses or from pursuing advanced courses in mathematics
or the science.

        Besides that, mathematics anxiety can be seen as having both aspects as state anxiety
and trait anxiety like Freud‟d formulation of objective and neurotic anxiety. Sometimes, state
anxiety can be provoked by a stuation such as a student undertaking a mathematical
assesement which has serious implications for their educational or vocational future. There
are some other cases that it would be seem that mathematics anxiety is an A-Trait, deeply
entrenched in the student‟s disposition as a result of previous experiences and likely to
manifest itself in the face of any kind of mathematical challenge.

        Furthermore, anxiety reaction also depends on the uncertainty associated with
environmental and cognitive factors such as the classroom climate, the teacher‟s teaching
style and a great variety of other factors. The students may thus react with behaviours such as
avoidance. For example, having to solve a difficult mathematics problem can appear
threatening to a person if he perceives that inability to handle the problem deprives him of the
feeling success or causes a loss of regard by others.

       Wiliam (1972) in discussing the effects of anxiety in arithmetic claimed that simple
tasks can made anxiety into effective motivator but as tasks become more complex for
students, it was more likely that high anxiety would interfere with perfomance.

2) Why does Mathematics Anxiety Happen?

        Many interrelated factors contributed to the formation of mathematics anxiety. In fact,
its formation is attributed to many factors which are interrelated with one another and hence is
difficult to pin point it‟s actual roots.

       Lazarus (1974) argued that mathematics anxiety results from poor instruction and
poorly designed mathematics curriculum. Burton(1979), Brush (1981) and Ferguson (1986)
believe that mathematics anxiety is related to the abstract nature of mathematics. More,
Tobias (1976) state that poor spatial skills make mathematical comprehension difficult for
many people.

        From the affective perspective, Bush (1991) commented that mathematics anxiety
arises from a climate in which negative attitudes and anxiety are transmitted from adults to
children. Mc Millan (1976) found that teacher‟s attitude and enthuthiasm toward a subject had
greater impact on student attitudes. More specificially, teachers with mathematics anxiety
transmit their anxiety to their students (Kelly and Tomhave, 1985 ; Bulman and Young, 1982
and Lazarus, 1974).

        Furthermore, parents do play a role in mathematics anxiety where negative parental
attitude towards mathematic may be transmitted to their children. At the end, that parents
often reinforce their childrens‟s mathematics anxiety.

        From the research that was conducted by Puteh, 1998, it was found that the cause of
mathematics anxiety were related to teacher personality and their style of teaching, public
examinations and their effect, affective domain such as personality and self perception,
feelings of difficulties and worries towards mathematics, parental expectations-their
aspiration and standard, peer group influences and the relevance of the usage mathematics in
everyday life.

3) Who Has the Mathematics Anxiety ?

        Mathematics anxiety among men and women is not uncommon. Mathematics anxiety
occurs in both males and females and care must be taken not to add mathematics anxiety to
the stereotype view that females are less capable in mathematics than males.

       Mathematics anxiety is considered to be a common characteristic among many
students and adults (Buxton, 1981). Students is the one who likely to have the greatest anxiety
towards mathematis especially one with bad past experiences on mathematics. There are
several antecedents that lead to student anxiety like dispositional antecedents, situational
antecedents and sociological antecedents. For example, students who lack confidence and
doubt themself to do mathematics, not been guided by teacher well, discriminated against by
teacher and friends due to lack mathematic skills and suffer from family problem tend to do
poor in mathematic. Morris, 1981 found out that some students who do well in other subjects
are convinced that they cannot do mathematics due to poor experiences in past mathematics

classes. They have developed a fatalistic attitude, fully expecting to fail in any attempts of
mathematics. Tobias (1978) claimed that discomfort with mathematics in elementary or
secondary school could develop into a full-fledged syndrome of anxiety and avoidance by the
time the students graduates from high school.

        Besides that, a study by Betz (1978) suggests that mathematics is a problem for many
college students, including those in advanced mathematics classes, where majors require an
extensive background in mathematics. Lindquist (1981) found that the level of mathematics
studied strongly influences how a college student will feel abaout mathematics. There a
significance relation between scores on a standardized mathematics achievement test and
level of mathematics anxiety. It is reported that people with higher achievement scores tended
to report lower mathematics anxiety and the other way.

        In addition, study done by English (1989) revealed that teachers also suffer from
mathematics anxiety. Teachers exhibiting higher mathematics anxiety levals were more likely
to be a female, have a lower attitude toward mathematics, have completed fewer mathematics
courses and have chosen to teach in the lower grades. While teachers who have performed
well in mathematics courses and felt competent in teaching mathematics have minimal
anxiety. Primary school teachers are often found to suffer from mathematics anxiety possibly
because of the lack of a firm foundation in mathematics, coupled with the nature of subject

       It is important to know such anxiety toward Mathematics can happen to anyone at any
age no matter of their mathematical ability.

4) When does Mathematics Anxiety Occur?

`       Mathematics anxiety occur when an individual is asked to solve problem in the daily
life using mathematics and playing with numbers. They tend to become uneasy before they
realize they always solve the problems in such situations without mathematics be mention.

        Mathematics anxiety can occur when students no matter in elementary school, high
school and college students are given a harder tasks than usual or to solve the mathematic
problems in given time. Besides that, mathematics anxiety can also occur when participating
in class, listening to a lecture and while doing a math related problem.

       Most of all, the biggest mathematics anxiety in students always happen during a test or
an examination which has the one that has serious implications for their educational or
vocational future and determine their future life.

       Teachers, too have the feeling of anxiety in delivering mathematics lessons to their
students. The feelings eventually grows bigger to a teachers that not a mathematics major,
have a lower attitude towards mathematic and less competent in teaching mathematics.

        I conclude that mathematics anxiety can happen anytime to anyone depending on the
situations, knowledge and preparations. What we need to do is find a really good ways to
reduce and eliminate it.

5) What created mathematics anxiety?

       Mathematics anxiety begin with student early perception and attitude toward
mathematics. There always mistaken beliefs about mathematics that contribute to the
negative, anxious feelings many people have about mathematics. All these thoughts results in
students posseses less interest in mathematics and said mathematics is difficult and bored. It
also have relation with one self esteem. Students whose believe that they are incapable of
doing mathematics, they think they will look stupid and only humiliated themsef if they try to
solve mathematic problems especially in front of class. This causes them to feel apprehension
and anxiety to be in situation which involve calculation.

       From my reading, the major reasons why mathematics anxiety arises these days
mainly come from teachers. Students tend to love mathematics and find it is challenging in
positive ways because of their teacher and vice versa- students becomes scared of
mathematics also because of their teacher.

        A poor student-teacher relationship worsen the anxiety. There are cases that students
are afraid to ask questions to teachers because they do not know how to do it. Besides, the
fear to be blaming by teachers (which in fact does happens a lot) for not understanding what
was being thaught seems to have created a barrier between a student and a teacher
relationship. In some cases, the way teachers ridiculed and belittled the students also play an
important role in this aspect. More, the strict and fierce ways of the teachers handle their
students had certainly created a degree of anxiety among their students and this in turn have
negative effect on the students feeling towards the subject. Even more serious than stricness
and fierceness was the effect of teachers using threats to force their students to excel in
mathematics. This technique made the students feel afraid of the subject, afraid to do wrong in
mathematics and only make matter worse for those who not like maths. Later, all these
feelings develops into fear and anxiety of mathematics and those students will always
remember their bad past experience while doing math. In addition, teachers who not showing
interest in their students always frustrates the students. All the cold student-teacher
relationship as appoint all above only made requesting the teacher‟s assistance would be the
last thing students will do. Students willing to have the mathematics problems unsolved rather
than met the teacher and ask for teacher‟s help.

        More than that, a teacher‟s style of teaching mathematics also results in dissatisfaction
expressed which seem to lead to a certain degree of dislike for the subject. Students don‟t like
when their teachers using an old-fashioned way of teaching such as memorizing, drill and
practie, chalk and talk, figuring the numbers by hand and a rigidity in the way the lesson was
conveyed. Students claimed that these traditional way of teaching is lacking in sudents own
experience on math. Even some students said that “only when you go back and do it yourself

and experience it, then only you able to do it”. We cannot denied that teachers also have
issues to finish and cope up with the syllabus but going too fast in teaching and learning
process do not make things better. It is hard to deny the amount of anxiety that was created in
the traditional approach adopted by teachers to the students.

        Another reasons that lead to mathematics anxiety is pressure of examinations and it
effects. If the students keep failing in their tests, especially in their public examinations,
negative feelings and dislikes for the subject are created. They also have the mind of failing
and cannot do well in this subject for the next examination. Furthermore, the feeling of
anxious grows bigger when students were sits for their mathematics test and examination.
Sometimes, their fear is was beyond their understanding. This made them cannot think all the
different ways to solve the problems and got stuck and mind went blank during the exams and
finally result in poor achievement. Just the thoughts of going to have mathematics
examination itself creates a great deal of anxiety in some students. Let alone doing the actual
tests and exams.

        Besides that, the lack of right kind support and concern from the students families for
their perfomance in mathematics seems to have contributed a lot to the negative attitude
towards this subject. Coming from family with a father and mother background of not having
a high education and cannot be refer to when having mathematics problems seems do not help
in reducing the anxiety. Despite receiveing moral support and appropriate encouragement
from parents, students always feel what they need most was practical support-someone that
they can refer to.

       Students always felt that their friends played an important role in reeinforcing their
negative attitude and behaviour towards mathematics. Some students in the reasearch
admitted that they were strongly influenced by their friends for not bothering to make any
attempts to study and work hard on mathematics. Most of their classmates were poor in
mathematics and for the sake of acceptance in groups, they don‟t want to be different from all
of their classmates. So, they just don‟t care about mathematics and take it for granted.

6) How do you reduce mathematics anxiety?

       Teachers must understand well why and what cause this mathematics anxiety to be
occur and find ways to channel the anxiety into a proud acheivement. Morris (1981)
commented that since anxiety is a learned response to a negative experience, it therefore can
be prevented. Morris in her article entitled “Math Anxiety: Teaching to Avoid It” suggested
constructive techniques and strategies for teachers to help prevent math anxiety among
students. The tehnique suggests are:

                         Create a positive, supportive classroom atmosphere
                         Stress understanding the thought process
                         Dispel the math mind myth
                         Provide new positive math experience

                         Use concrete materias to teach content
                         Make sure each concept is understood before continuing
                         Reduce tension and pressure in mathematics classes
                         Give positive feedback on written test

There are few other ways to reduce mathematics anxiety than what Morris has suggests like:

                       Always overcome negative self-talk, everyone must confident with
                       Do not rely on memorization in study math, do it in creative way
                        and use critical thinking.
                       Essential to be creative.
                       Use different styles and approaches in teaching math.
                       Use mathematics games as an introduction to mathematic concepts.
                       Use math humour – cartoons and jokes.
                       Students works in groups

Of all the ways that I list, I can say that teachers are the „mastermind‟ and must play all the
role and must work hard to make all these things finally pay off. Sooner or later, we can only
hope that mathematics anxiety can be reduced .

7) How do you eliminate mathematics anxiety?

        In my opinion, mathematics anxiety cannot be eliminate using only a step. It needs a
series of steps and continuosly steps to get rid of the anxiety. Little by little, mathematics
anxiety is reduced and later it will be eliminated. Yes, it do take times but how success met at
the end is a sweet labour. What important is a lot of practice with all kind of exercises.
Teachers can also turns the challenge into positive competition between class and to
encourage students to work better in mathematics. Work in groups can help stdents to think
more. There also some aspects that could be taken into consideration in order to eliminate
mathematics anxiety:

                          Avoid unnecessary time pressures.
                          Remove some of the pressures from major tests and examinations.
                          Developes alternatives to written tests.
                          Stops the feelings of exam-oriented in entire nation.

I believe that the mathematics anxiety in Malaysian society can be eliminated if all of us
(including teachers, students, parents and community) works together (well cooperate) in a
matter of time.


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