Math = Love: Guest Post: Math Anxiety and Success

Monday, December 26, 2016

Guest Post: Math Anxiety and Success

Today, I am super-pleased to share a guest post with you from Shana who blogs at Scaffolded Math and Science.  I love stalking Shana's blog because she posts some of the most gorgeous photos of her classroom.  Seriously, her word wall is to die for!  You can also interact with her on Twitter!  Today, she wants to share with you some thoughts on math anxiety.  Take it away, Shana!

Did you know that math can actually hurt? It’s been shown that math can cause actual physical pain in people who are already anxious about it. To be fair, it’s the thought of doing math rather than the actual math itself (I mean, math IS awesome!) but all jokes aside, this is a real thing for some kids, especially those who have failed repeatedly.

I teach high school Special Education Algebra 2 and Consumer Math to kids who have failed repeatedly. I still remember the day my coach kept tossing softballs for me to hit and ball after ball I missed. I could hear the other kids laughing at me. I could see the coach wondering what was wrong with me. I was sweating, I was searching desperately for an excuse to tell myself. I didn’t play softball for much longer after that.

With softball, I could quit. With math, you can’t quit until you are legally considered an adult. There are 2 parts of my job that I take very seriously. The first is to keep math anxiety to a minimum by substituting graded assignments for tests, doing lots of hands-on activities and giving open-notebook quizzes. When math anxiety is coupled with test-taking anxiety, how can a student possibly feel successful? I do give quizzes but also weigh class activities as heavily as quizzes to allow students to find success. I read a quote somewhere during my Special Education training that went something like, “Why would a kid want success when he doesn’t even know what it feels like?”

We display our student work on our classroom fridge to remember what success feels like. I give lots of activities and lots of different types of opportunities to earn points. Very few kids fail my classes. The second part of my job that I take very seriously is taking the mystery and pain out of math so that my students want to go on to take more math classes. When a kid sees a 100% proudly displayed on our classroom wall, it doesn’t matter if that assignment was specifically set up for her to get that 100%. All that matters is that it’s there, it’s felt, and it’s remembered the next day when the task is more challenging.

Thank you, Shana, for sharing your insight into working with special education students!  I know we all want each and everyone of our students to experience the feeling of success. Be sure to check out her blog, Scaffolded Math and Science for more resources!  And, leave her a comment to say thanks for sharing!  


  1. Thank you so much for including my post on your blog. This is a serious highlight of my year!

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to write a post!

  2. Thats a awesome post. Not much of a maths lover but that's doesnt keep me away from doing my homework...

  3. Keeping them engaged is the key!!! rare to find these type of teaching.

  4. Your teaching pattern is impressive.