On Math Confidence

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Here at Matific we write a lot about math anxiety, those who suffer from it and the long-term impact. But what about math confidence? Just as math anxiety affects marks, being able to relate to math is actually linked to having better results.

How does this work? Well, a new study by University of Washington researchers looked at a child’s “math self-concept.” In other words, they wanted to understand if kids could identify with math on a conscious or subconscious level, and how their results were linked to their thinking. So they studied a sample of 300 Singaporean children in grade 1, 3 and 5.

The authors found that children who achieve higher scores on standardised math tests tend to identify strongly with math.

“We were fascinated to find that elementary-school children have subconscious thoughts about whether or not they are a math person,” one of the authors said. “They have an implicit identity of ‘math is for me’ or ‘math is not for me’ at a surprisingly early age. This self-concept matters because it is correlated with actual behavior, such as math achievement.”  

The study also analysed whether the stereotype that “math is for boys” had influenced the children’s performance. They found that girls who believed this (subconsciously) had a weaker math self-concept and, therefore, weaker results.

The issue with these results is that the authors looked at implicit factors, of which students and parents simply aren’t aware. Math self-concept is hardly an after-school conversation starter with 10-year-old and even if it was, their views would be buried in their subconscious. But these factors are affecting results.

“We think it could be useful for teachers and parents to know whether their young child identifies positively or negatively with math. If we can boost children’s math self-concepts early in development, this may also help boost their actual math achievement and interest in the discipline.”

The researchers will continue to study this field. But there are many parents and teachers who have been thrown into this field by default.  Do you have any tips for helping kids identify with math or any ideas on how to combat gender stereotypes?

Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one.  She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.