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New Study Provides Possible Solution to Reducing Math Anxiety

Could taking math outside the classroom help young students with math anxiety?

The findings of a new study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggest that may be the case.

The researchers were evaluating the Crazy 8s Club after-school program. It allows children from K-2 and 3-5 to learn more about math through play. The program was developed by the Bedtime Math Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to help children learn to love math.

Crazy 8s Race.jpgThrough a randomized control trial, the researchers found that after participating in the Crazy 8s club for eight weeks students experienced a significant reduction in their math anxiety as compared to students who participated in an art club for the same amount of time.

The students who took part in Crazy 8s reduced their math anxiety by roughly 50 percent. The students in the art club didn't experience any statistically significant reduction in math anxiety.

"Some kids start kindergarten at age 5 with significant math anxiety," said Lisa Feigenson, the study's principal investigator and a professor of psychological and brain science at Johns Hopkins.

Impact of Math Anxiety

Feigenson, who also serves as the co-director of the university's Laboratory for Child Development, says the impact of this anxiety goes far beyond how a young child might perform on a math assessment.

"It's about how hard they're going to try in math," said Feigenson. "It's about are they going to seek out those extra math opportunities, or are they going to turn away from those opportunities and consequently they're probably doing a little worse at math and that effect builds and builds over time."

So what seems to be the value of an after-school club, outside-the-classroom approach to learning math? 

"By decoupling it from the classroom, kids might see it as more of a social opportunity to interact with other kids and play math games and solve problems and mysteries rather than just doing paper-and-pencil tests," said Feigenson.

Methodology

Initially, researchers used survey data from 755 students across the country who had volunteered to participate in Crazy 8s to examine the program's effect on math anxiety. It found low math anxiety to begin with in the older students and that the program had more of an impact on reducing math anxiety among the youngest students.

Then the researchers decided to use a randomized control trial to counter any possible selection bias in the prior sample and to determine whether or not the reduction in anxiety was simply due to participating in any extracurricular activity. 

They used survey data from a different group of 652 students in Maryland and New Jersey. The students were randomly assigned to either Crazy 8s or an after-school art club. To control for demographic differences, each location offered at least one of each club.

Students were surveyed about their math anxiety before starting each club and eight weeks later. The researchers found that the students in Crazy 8s had much lower math anxiety after participating in the club, and this reduction applied at all ages and for both girls and boys. There was no similar reduction for students who participated in the art club.

This study was funded by a grant from the Overdeck Family Foundation.

Photo: A board game developed by Bedtime Math teaches kids in Crazy 8s about multiples of eight. Photo Courtesy Bedtime Math Foundation


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