Math Anxiety in Math Methods Courses: Self-Exploration Tools for Healing During Remote Learning

Math Anxiety in Math Methods Courses: Self-Exploration Tools for Healing During Remote Learning

Socorro Orozco
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8287-9.ch014
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Many elements contribute to pre-service teachers' experiences in learning to teach mathematics. The transition to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has forced educators to challenge traditional math instruction. This chapter presents three major contributing elements in pre-service teacher preparation to foster creativity as a central component and an inevitable outcome of learning to teach mathematics with particular applications to online learning settings. The first section discusses learning to teach math as a creative activity. Some concrete instructional strategies are offered that promote dialogue-rich learning environments. The second section reviews current trends in learning to teach math. The author posits pre-service teachers who have suffered traumatic experiences in learning mathematics must first acquire tools for clearing math anxiety and fear. The third section is a call to action to encourage teachers to participate in and construct learning communities to teach mathematics including the use of instructional technology to support online instruction.
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Do you believe in magic? Regardless of your answer, I urge you to think of a moment when you experienced something breathtaking and for which you had no explanation. That feeling, that may be labeled as magical, is what I feel when I prepare to teach a math lesson. Perhaps learning a bit about the context in which I engaged in the learning of mathematics will help you understand why I feel the way I feel about math and about teaching math. I grew up in a house where math was abundantly present because my father was an elementary teacher by day and a high school math teacher at night. There was always talk about math around the house and if anything, solving math problems and practicing some type of math-related activity was part of our daily routines. It was not that math was pushed on me, it was just there, I lived it as any other cultural routine such as eating tortillas. I embraced the learning of mathematics in such a seamless manner that I seldomly thought about the impact it had about how I read the world, it simply became another conceptual tool I used make inferences about my environment. In a way, math was a central conceptual tool in understanding my world because it connected my academic work and my dearest family relationship, that with my father.

When I was about seven years old, I challenged homework assignments that required repeated math exercises such as adding single digit numbers. I’m sure many of you remember the worksheets that had a bunch of addition exercises written in columns and that served as tool for practicing until your brain would collapse. My father did not feel very strongly about them either but he would encourage me to practice because he believed that practice increased your accuracy and your speed. I did not share the same belief. In fact, I challenged him to add numbers as fast as he could and see if he would not need his fingers to count. He accepted the challenge. I began with five plus six and he responded “eleven” within a second. I was so shocked that I just thought he could do magic, that was the only explanation that my seven-year-old brain could produce. Since then, I felt the utmost respect for the smartest and most magical human being I knew. I also began to appreciate and embrace practice in learning math and stopped complaining about homework. I wanted to have the same magic powers my dad had. Although I have not learned a lot of math magic tricks over the years, I have invested my creativity to study many of the patterns in basic arithmetic and algebraic knowledge, which have served to engage my students from all the different levels (from preschool to college) in learning math and learning to teach math in a meaningful way.

This became particularly relevant when working with preservice teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic as the mandates to move to a remote learning setting called for different ways to interact with students, math content, and instructional practices. The rapid shift to remote instruction demanded high innovation within a very short timeframe, which created a great amount of overwhelm for teachers, students, and families during an already very stressful time. As a teacher educator, I sought the help of instructional technology that I hoped would serve as comparable replacement to face-to-face interaction when it comes to demonstrations and clinical practice. Although I continuously faced the disappointment of now being able to use concrete models or have student teachers walk up to the board and explain problem a problem to their peers, I was still able to gather instructional tools that centered student-student interaction and community building. In that sense, I continued to experience magical transformations as an educator. I share many of these tools in the last section of this chapter.

One critical point that it is important to emphasize is that learning math and learning to teach math meaningfully is not necessarily about making mathematical thinking easy, but rather about becoming comfortable with math as a conceptual and practical tool and about clearing fears and doubts about one’s ability to do math. Math has not always come easy and I have experienced a great deal of math anxiety over the years to different degrees (Richardson & Suinn, 1972). This had led me to the conclusion that the context under which we learn math can really shape our experiences and ultimately our math self-concept (Shavelson, Hubner, & Stanton, 1976). I realized the significance of this assertion, more than ever, while learning to navigate the context of remote learning. I saw as the healthiest option to surrender to the changes brought about the rapid spread of a novel virus and by engaging in the most creative endeavors when designing learning experiences for preservice teachers who were tasked with learning current instructional math methods.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI): An instructional approach to teaching mathematics that focuses on analyzing students’ mathematical reasoning by engaging them in meaningful dialogue.

Divergent Thinking: Creative thinking in which an individual solves a problem or reaches a decision using strategies that deviate from commonly used or previously taught strategies. This term is often used synonymously with lateral thinking ( ).

Instructional Technology: This the use of technology in the instructional processes that enhances both teaching and learning by infusing instructional design and development with tools that eliminate learning in abstract ( ).

Self-Efficacy: Refers to one’s beliefs about one’s capacity to complete a task successfully.

Autobiographical Explorations: Refers to a method of analysis that involves exploring lived experiences as they pertain to a specific aspect of the self.

Clinical Practice: Refers to the practice in teaching preparation programs where pre-service teachers are placed in a classroom setting and are tasked with the responsibilities of planning and delivering instruction, assessing students, and communicating with parents/caregivers.

Cooperative Learning: An instructional strategy that encourages student-student interaction by working in small groups (3-4 students) and engaging in various problem-solving activities.

Open-Ended Tasks: Refers to an instructional strategy that engages students in problem-solving activities that do not have a right or wrong answer or that have many different answers.

Trauma: Is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster ( ).

Distance Learning: Refers to the use of various technologies to mediate teaching and learning (e.g., delivering lessons using video and other online tools).

Pre-Service Teacher: Candidate enrolled in a teacher preparation program.

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