Examining the Mechanisms of the Math Anxiety-Math Achievement Link through a School-Based Grades 2-3 Intervention
Effective Years: 2022-2025
Many children, adolescents, and adults experience math anxiety. Research has shown that math-anxious children typically continue to experience math anxiety as they get older. People with math anxiety tend to perform more poorly in math and are less likely to take advanced math courses or pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. Thus, tackling math anxiety early on is important for mitigating negative impacts later in life. This project will develop and test a school-based intervention to decrease children’s math anxiety. Researchers have suggested that math anxiety leads to lower math achievement because it leads people to avoid math, and because anxious thoughts use the limited cognitive resources in working memory, which are required for solving math problems. Therefore, this project will test whether any reduction in math anxiety from the intervention leads children to avoid math less, have better working memory skills, and perform better in math. This project will produce intervention materials that can be used to alleviate children’s math anxiety and help to better understand long-term effects of math anxiety on math avoidance, working memory, and math achievement.
The first goal of this project is to develop the math anxiety intervention. This intervention will adapt an existing classroom-based intervention and add exposure components from cognitive behavioral therapy interventions, which are effective for children with other anxiety-related disorders. The work will involve developing a child workbook, facilitator session guides, and facilitator training materials. During this process, intervention components will be tested with 24-39 children to inform revisions to the materials. The second goal is to test the effect of the intervention on math anxiety and whether any effect leads to changes in working memory and math avoidance, and subsequently math achievement. Second- and third-grade classrooms will be randomly assigned within schools to have their students with high math anxiety (140 students total) participate in the small-group intervention or be in a business-as-usual control group (140 students total). Children’s math anxiety, avoidance, working memory, and math achievement will be assessed before and after the intervention, as well as 3 and 6 months later. Results will be used to test the theory that intervention-induced changes in math anxiety relate to increased working memory and decreased math avoidance, which relate to improved math achievement. The findings from this project will have implications for understanding the role of math anxiety in math achievement, and have the potential to lead to long-term increases in STEM workforce participation.
This project is supported by NSF's EHR Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development. The program supports the accumulation of robust evidence to inform efforts to understand, build theory to explain, and suggest intervention and innovations to address persistent challenges in education.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.