Advice Column, Education, Mainstream Education

PBL: A game-changer in overcoming math anxiety

  • Future Nation Schools
  • Category Advice Column, Education, Mainstream Education

Mathematics is a crucial subject that permeates our daily lives – from managing finances to solving complex problems in various fields, mathematics is everywhere. However, for many of us the thought of dealing with mathematical concepts can trigger feelings of dread and anxiety. This phenomenon is commonly known as math anxiety. Fortunately, one effective approach to alleviating math anxiety is through Project-Based Learning (PBL). 

Understanding Math Anxiety

Math anxiety is more than just a dislike for math. It is a psychological phenomenon that can cause physical and emotional distress when faced with any math-related tasks – regardless of whether you’re a learner or an adult. Symptoms may include a racing heart, sweaty palms, avoidance behaviour and negative self-talk. 

Math anxiety can hinder one’s ability to learn and perform well in math-related subjects, leading to lower self-esteem and reduced confidence. But here is the really interesting thing, says Mr Lawrence Bete, Head of the Mathematics Department at Future Nation Schools, math anxiety does not only affect those who struggle with maths. High achievers can also suffer from it as they feel pressured to maintain high standards of academic excellence; struggle with perfectionism, over-thinking and competitiveness; as well as worry about how their maths grade might hinder their career aspirations. 

One effective way to help learners who struggle with maths anxiety improve their mathematical understanding and build their confidence is to teach them using a PBL approach, adds Mampho Langa, Head of Schools at Future nation Schools. This is because PBL, as a learner-centred teaching method, shifts the focus from traditional rote memorisation and repetitive problem-solving to a more engaging and interactive learning experience where learners explore complex topics, solve real-world problems and apply critical thinking skills in a way that is active, collaborative and hands-on.

Six ways PBL helps overcoming math anxiety

  1. Real-world relevance: PBL introduces maths in a real-world context. This helps learners see the practical applications of the concepts they are learning (no more wondering “when will I ever use this in real-life”) and can make maths feel less abstract and more meaningful. In doing so, PBL reduces the anxiety associated with maths’ perceived complexity.
  1. Multidisciplinary learning: PBL integrates multiple subjects, demonstrating that mathematics is not isolated but interconnected with other fields. This interdisciplinary approach can make maths feel more approachable and less intimidating.
  1. Active engagement: PBL actively engages learners in the learning process. Instead of passively receiving information, learners take ownership of their learning by identifying problems, formulating questions and seeking solutions. This shift from passive to active learning can help reduce anxiety by promoting a sense of control as well as reshaping attitudes toward maths. 
  1. Collaboration: PBL fosters collaboration and peer support. Learners are encouraged to work together to solve math-related challenges, share their ideas and learn from one another’s strengths. Collaborative learning can reduce feelings of isolation and fear associated with math. 
  1. Flexibility and creativity: PBL encourages creativity and allows learners to approach problems in their unique ways. This flexibility reduces the pressure to conform to a single “correct” method and helps learners build confidence in their problem-solving abilities. 
  1. Progress monitoring: PBL involves ongoing assessment and feedback, allowing learners to track their progress in real-time versus tracking progress only through assessments and exams. This continuous feedback loop helps learners identify areas where they need improvement and celebrate their successes and mitigates anxiety stemming from uncertainty about their abilities. 

Math anxiety can be a significant barrier to learning and success in mathematics-related subjects. However, utilising PBL can turn maths from a subject that learners approach with fear and apprehension to one that they view as an exciting journey of exploration and discovery that has relevance to their daily lives. 

For more about how PBL is unlocking the future of mathematics education at Future Nation Schools, watch our recent FutureTalk Webinar.  

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