Math Anxiety in Pre-Service Elementary School Teachers

Article excerpt

Does the thought of math cause you to feel helpless, panicky, and to have difficulty in breathing, or ability to concentrate? If so, you are not alone. According to Trujillo (1999), Cemen, 1987; Posamentier & Stepelman, (1990, p. 210) report that "feelings of math anxiety can lead to panic, tension, helplessness, fear, distress, shame, inability to cope, sweaty palms, nervous stomach, difficulty breathing, and loss of ability to concentrate."

Math anxiety is an extremely common phenomenon among college and university students today. Stephen G. Krantz (1999, p. 1) as reported in (Perry, 2004) describes an extreme form of this syndrome: "Math anxiety is an inability by an otherwise intelligent person to cope with quantification, and more generally, mathematics ... When confronted with a math problem, the sufferer has sweaty palms, is nauseous, has heart palpitations, and experiences paralysis of thought."

Background

Mathematics anxiety has been the topic of more research than any other in the affective domain. According to Tooke (1998), although math anxiety may have serious consequences in both daily life and in work, mathematics anxiety has its roots in teaching and teachers (Williams, 1988), and has been tied to poor academic performance of students, as well as to the effectiveness of elementary teachers (Bush, 1989; Hembree, 1990). Mathematicians and mathematics educators have great concern that teachers' attitudes toward mathematics may affect more than their students' values and attitudes toward mathematics; these attitudes may affect the effectiveness of the teaching itself (Teague & Austin-Martin, 1981).

As stated in Trujillo (1999), there is a particular concern in the case of elementary teachers, because it has been reported that a disproportionately large percentage experience significant levels of mathematics anxiety (Buhlman & Young, 1982; Levine, 1996). This leads to doubts as to their potential effectiveness in teaching mathematics to young children (Trice & Ogden, 1986).

These concerns about the levels of mathematics anxiety among pre-service teachers and their potential effectiveness in teaching mathematics to young children were the bases for the research we conducted during the 2005-2006 school year at Arkansas State University. This study was directed at determining the level of math anxiety among pre-service elementary school teachers on the main campus and two branch campuses.

Method

Since students with math anxiety are difficult to identify in groups, we chose as our sample groups of students that we believed would exhibit math anxiety. These groups included college students with non-science majors taking physical science labs (a general required course), early childhood teacher education majors, and middle school teacher education majors. The education majors were further subdivided by whether or not they were interns (last semester seniors). Middle school teacher education majors were grouped by areas of concentration: language arts/social studies, or math/science.

In order to assess mathematics anxiety, we chose to administer the Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale--Revised (MARS-R), a 24 item self-rating scale, developed by Plake and Parker in 1982, and based upon the original 98 item MARS rating scale (Richardson & Suinn, 1972). According to Hopko (2003, p.339),

   The MARS-R measures anxiety in
   math-related situations with the
   composite score being a total of two
   subscales: LME and MEA. Items
   are answered on a 5-point Likert
   scale ranging from 0 (no anxiety) to
   4 (high anxiety). The MARS-R
   which has yielded a coefficient alpha
   reliability of .98, is correlated .97
   with the full-scale MARS (Plake &
   Parker, 1982).

After taking the 24 item MARS-R, students were asked to respond true or false to 12 math myths. The math myths were taken from an article (Platonic Realms MiniTexts, 2004). …