Let’s step into a student’s shoes for a moment. Pretend you’re a student in a math class. Your teacher poses a question, then calls on you to answer it. The teacher’s disappointed look and the muffled giggles from your classmates indicate that your answer is clearly off the mark. Your face flushes and you wish you could stick your head in a pile of sand.  Most of us can relate to this scenario. Unfortunately, the fear of public embarrassment during math class can lead to the development of math anxiety. But what if we flipped this situation on its head? What if getting a wrong answer was a good thing in math class? What if you and your classmates were excited to learn from each other’s mistakes? Now that’s a math class we’d all like to participate in!

A classroom where students work together and learn from each other can be part of a collaborative, active learning classroom. Active learning engages students in the process of learning through activities and/or discussions in class. It emphasizes higher-order thinking and often involves group work. The results of a study that tested the effectiveness of active learning instruction indicated that average test scores improved by about 6% in active learning sections. (Freeman et al., 2014).

But how does active learning impact math anxiety? Another study looked at the impact of inquiry-based learning/active learning on math anxiety. Significant results showed that the math anxiety of the inquiry-based learning participants decreased. By the end of the study, statistical tests revealed that the inquiry-based learning participants had significantly more positive opinions on their classroom experiences in math classrooms (Lorenzen, 2017)

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Why does active learning reduce math anxiety? Students reported that working with partners in cooperative learning groups and in centers decreased their levels of math anxiety. Students also reported several other factors helped, including actively participating in the class with manipulatives and being encouraged to work problems in more than one way. (Harper and Daane, 1998)

How can you do this is your classroom?

Tip #5 Use Collaborative Learning.

[To see Tips 1-4, check out these previous blog posts:1) Overcoming Math Anxiety  2) Are Parents to Blame? 3) Which Came First: Math Anxiety or Poor Performance? 4) Overcoming Math Anxiety: How Teachers Play a Part]

Using a curriculum with an instructional design that incorporates collaborative learning is a great place to infuse active learning into your classroom.

  • Instructional Design: Each lesson in enVision A|G|A and enVision Integrated begins with a problem-based learning exploration followed by visual and interactive examples to build conceptual understanding.

    – During Step 1 of the lesson in the lesson-opening exploration, students work collaboratively through problem-based learning. The activity is introduced as a whole-class discussion. Students then work in pairs or small groups, while the teacher meets with students and ask questions to support productive struggle. Then the teacher wraps up the activity with another whole-class discussion during which students are readied for the new concepts in the lesson.

    – During Step 2 of the lesson, various examples that use powerful visuals and interactive learning help to make the math explicit. Different instructional methods and suggestions are available to help teachers modify specific examples to work with struggling students and advanced learners, as well as various proficiency levels of English language learners.

  • STEM Projects: These projects provide opportunities for students to work together and explore situations that address real social, economic, and environmental issues that foster mathematical connections across topics. Click here for free resources.
  • 3-Act Math Lessons: These lessons engage students in the complete modeling cycle. Students engage in reality-based mathematical modeling that is challenging and closely mirrors the work of STEM professionals. Students receive little information to start and collaborate to determine information that is needed in order to solve the problem. Through productive struggle, students work together to build models and conjectures of the situation to present to the class. Click here for free lessons.

Building a classroom culture that values learning from mistakes and encourages students to grow and learn from each other takes time but is worth the effort. Try some of these collaborative learning resources to actively engage your students and reduce math anxiety.

Request a FREE sample of Pearson’s new enVision AGA program today! 

About the Author:
Molly Spalding is a former math teacher who now works on creating and marketing Pearson high school math programs. She is passionate about education and helping students see the beauty in mathematics. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Industrial Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Science in Secondary Mathematics Education from Northwestern University.

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Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.