By Louann Carlomagno – Math… a word that either brings excitement or fear. Students and parents alike experience the same feelings around the subject. We continue to emphasize the importance of mathematics as a field of study and the integral part math plays in our daily lives. At our schools, educators invest in understanding and teaching mathematics before, during, and after school in a way that helps build student confidence.
How many times have you heard or said, “I’m not good at math?” Let’s take a look for a moment at the social influences kids’ face that can get in the way of embracing and enjoying mathematics. These factors include social environment (at home, in school, and in society in general). Our educators continually explore opportunities to address these influences.
Some may argue that math anxiety is really just a definition for someone who is bad at math. Cognitive scientists suggest the opposite is true. The mental barrier of anxiety is what robs a person of the ability to process equations and creates anxiety.
What are our educators doing about this to help students overcome these feelings?
Knowing where math anxiety comes from helps to uncover opportunities to support higher achievement. Research also suggests that the conversations at home about math help to reduce the feelings of anxiousness. Involving parents in the discussion at the beginning of school year is important.
At the beginning of the school year, many of our classrooms showed a video to parents and students explaining why persisting in math are important and necessary. The message was clear, everyone has the ability to excel in math; for some, it requires more perseverance, discussion, and critical thinking. Encouragement such as “You can do it!” and “It’s a challenge and we can do it together” help to build confidence.
On the flip side, identification of at-risk students, coupled with specific exercises to boost confidence is a significant factor in reducing the effects of math anxiety. We are always looking for ways for kids to break through barriers and achieve their highest potential.
Teacher training and recognizing math anxieties are a big part of the equation for achievement and math confidence. Researchers have found that a course taught on how to teach math concepts was more effective than teaching the math concepts themselves. Common Core is no exception.
I’m continually enthusiastic about our investment in teacher training, especially in mathematics. Educators research and explore new ways to engage students, tools to help them achieve in all subjects including math. Innovative, excited, and thought leaders are how I would describe our educators.
In the same way, classroom set up also supports learning and achievement. The day of sitting quietly, raising a hand to ask a question, and ardently taking notes is a thing of the past. The perfect classroom setting in the 1950s looks nothing like the 21st Century learning classroom of today.
For example, visit one of our classrooms and you’ll find an environment promoting collaboration, discussion, interaction, and drawing. Our community’s support of Measure H helped to fund our classrooms and infrastructure improvements.
Equally important is the community support through partnerships like the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation has been significant for our schools. The S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program funded by SVEF incorporates lessons based on Stanford professor Jo Boaler’s research and learn to move from a “fixed-mindset” (“I’m either good at math or not”) to a “growth mindset” (“I CAN learn anything and be good at math).
If you would like to hear more about how the SVEF programs support our student’s achievement, please join us at our State of the School’s Breakfast on April 27 at Sonoma Golf Club. For more information about this event, visit SVEF.org or call 707.935.9566.
The results are positive when educators, families and the communities invest in education and math achievement. It’s a continued process of learning, educating, and providing the foundation to help kids overcome their fears of math. As we continue this work, we collectively help our kids to achieve to their highest potential not only in math but also in life.
Louann Carlomagno is the superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District. She can be reached at 707.935.4246.