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Parents’ anxiety over math may hinder students performance

December 22, 2018

Parents’ anxiety about math has been negatively associated with their children’s achievement in the subject in early elementary school.

But new research indicates that their kids’ performance can improve merely if mom and dad change their attitude about it.

The information was released in a report published by the American Psychological Association this month. The report said that the findings indicate that interventions involving parents and children together can have powerful lasting effects on children’s academic achievement and suggest that changes in parents’ expectations for their children’s potential for success in math, and the value they place on this success, play a role in these sustained effects.

Students improved their math scores when they used a digital application called Bedtime Math.

Their parents’ attitudes about math also became more positive, which is what led researchers to make the correlation.

Local educators responded to the findings of the new study. Most admitted that math was a problematic area, as evidenced by the lower mathematics scores recorded as part of the PSSA tests earlier this year.

David Reeder, Berlin Brothersvalley superintendent, said the study was illuminating and hit home for him. He has met parents who are enthusiastic about math and others that fear it. Reeder thinks that sometimes that anxiety can transmit to their children. They have a math night in Berlin to help parents learn the best methods to teach their kids about addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Part of a parent’s responsibility is being cognizant of the way they talk about learning important skills. So he has a message that he gives himself.

“Learning comes through the struggle. Not through the success,” Reeder said. “It comes from doing things that are very difficult for you. Failure is part of learning. It’s all right to fail. Eventually you’ll pick up what you need to learn and it’ll internalize. If you stop when you fail at anything, if you don’t persevere through that, then you’re never going to grow. Math is one of those things that get highlighted a lot. But I think it’s in anything we do.”

Louis Lepley, North Star School District superintendent, said that the biggest thing parents can do to help teachers is to practice with their children.

“Parents should be working with their children daily in all academic areas,” Lepley said. “If parents have concerns, questions or struggles, they should reach out to the school to take advantage of the school’s resources. Schools are there to help both the student and parent in terms of student safety and academic success.”

Conemaugh Township Superintendent Tom Kakabar said that math and science have always been subjects that parents have not felt comfortable with. But he agreed with the findings of the study.

“As always, I urge parents to keep a positive attitude with their children; the old saying is that attitude is everything and I truly believe that if parents remain positive, it will have an amazing impact on their child’s learning,” Kakabar said.

Josh Spangler, principal of Maple Ridge Elementary School in Somerset, said new technology has revolutionized the way that we learn about math. At his school, on the back of every homework page is a parent helper sheet that explains the steps, thinking and processes taught that day. They also offer evening workshops.

“I know sometimes it is hard to understand why we ‘don’t teach math like they used to,’” Spangler said. “However, our students are not becoming memorizers of facts and procedures. They are becoming mathematicians who understand numbers and operations. They are becoming thinkers and problem-solvers. These are the skills that will allow them to compete with people from around the globe.”

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