Students inhibited by maths-fear not maths-ability

12 June 2013

'Maths-anxiety' may explain the poor application of quantitative skills by some science students, according to a new paper in the International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology.

"I can't do maths!" A common refrain heard by science educators but one which may have more to do with the fear of maths than a lack of mathematical ability. A new paper published this week by researchers at the School of Biological Sciences and the University of New South Wales, argues that the students rigidity of mind needs to be changed in order to move past the 'maths problem' in science education.

Authors Rosanne Quinnell (The University of Sydney), Rachel Thompson (UNSW) and Rebecca LeBard (UNSW) have developed a model for the signature pedagogy of science. They suggest that points at which students disengage from learning are those points when quantitative skills are required. "This paper brings together several theoretical frameworks which we have found useful for understanding the persistence of poor student numeracy in science," said Rosanne.

The solution to this 'maths problem' may lie in boosting the confidence of students to transfer their maths skills to the study of science. The authors state, "It appears students should be able to be taught positive thinking dispositions that allow them to become better thinkers across a range of contexts."

Quantitative or 'maths' skills are integral to the practice of science and so it is important to address this barrier in the students learning. Thus Rosanne suggests, "The ideas we have published will be of interest to those designing and implementing new curricula focused on developing the quantitative skills of science students."

We need to foster confidence, as well as teach skills.

A new paper by Quinnell, Thompson and LeBard explores maths-fear as a limit to learning
A new paper by Quinnell, Thompson and LeBard explores maths-fear as a limit to learning