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Math ought to be the easiest class in school. It isn’t. Instead, math has become a feared subject for so many pupils.

When learning math, the most likely emotional outcome is that students learn to fear math. This is especially problematic as math is first and foremost a tool to understand or describe the world in other sciences, risking negative emotional contamination of other areas of education. If you hate math because you fear it, you are probably not going to like physics or economics.

A study of university students in Granada, Spain (2008) revealed that 60% of students from various faculties suffered from math anxiety. Keep in mind that these students were enrolled in academic education despite this anxiety, so the ratio might be even higher for people who left the education system earlier.

This situation is both terrible and fascinating. Terrible because no one wanted this outcome and no one wants it to continue. Fascinating because it is a very important and apparently difficult problem to solve. These are the reasons why I created a math games company.

The rules of math are simple, elegant and well-defined. The system is an rule-system that should be as easy as ABC for both students and teachers. Language on the other hand has rules with loads of exceptions and tons of special circumstances. Sports and music have high requirements for precision of e.g. bodily movement and geography, history and biology have endless details to consider, along with complicated interplays between those systems’ entities.

Compared to those subjects, math ought to be easy. The basic rules of algebra should not take more than a year to learn. However, that is not what we see in classrooms. Some students get it right away, but most struggle and too many are left behind.

One simple, yet powerful tool to improve math outcomes and reduce anxiety is to use *Mindset*. The Mindset Method is developed by Carol Dweck who is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. It will not fix math by itself but it is an important and easy practice to implement.

Mindset is a simple concept with huge impact on student behaviour. It turns out that people can have either *a fixed mindset* or *a growth mindset*.

Fixed mindset people believe that their abilities are fixed at a certain level. They think they cannot grow beyond their present level. They avoid challenges and are more likely to cheat on tests to improve their score.

Growth mindset people believe that their abilities are fluid and can grow. They are more likely to accept harder challenges and improve their test scores by exposing themselves to failures and subsequent learning. So, in short this is the mindset that is open to learning.

The interesting thing about Mindset is that people can change their mindset. Mindsets are fluent and you can even change other people’s mindset for them. Consider this:

Carol Dweck ran an experiment where she asked students to perform a challenging task. She divided the group into two randomly selected groups. One group was praised for their efforts. The other group was praised for their intelligence. She then asked each person if they would like another challenge. The result was incredible.

Those students who were praised for their effort eagerly accepted further challenges. These were students with *a growth mindset*.Those students who were praised for their intelligence declined the extra challenges. These were students with *a fixed mindset*.

The amazing thing was that Carol Dweck had put the students in their mindset simply by praising effort instead of traits! Setting high standards is important in teaching, but equally important is praising genuine effort even when performance standards are not met as this fosters motivation that leads to those goals being met eventually.

**Mindset: The New Psychology of Success**_Now updated with new research-the book that has changed millions of lives makes a perfect graduation gift.After decades…_www.amazon.com

In our math game Digit Dare, you can see how we have implemented one approach to Mindset in math. The game is about solving math questions before time runs out.

In games it is crucial to generate a sense of progress in players. The usual way of building that feeling is to reward players for their game progression. In Digit Dare we do it the other way around. Whenever the player fails a question she is led to a screen, where she is rewarded for her effort. The harder she tries the more points she gets. Those points are then used to crack an egg. As the student exerts effort and fails, a small owl hatches from the egg. Growing with each failure — just like the student.

This is not the usual way of rewarding students or players. Students are typically tested and judged on their performance first. Many math games do this as well. They give three stars for correct answers — which is fine, performance does ultimately matter, but they do not reward effort at all, which is the key to performing better.

The owl only shows up when the player fails. In this way, the game rewards effort with a meaningful story about how determination and perseverance grows the owl from a frail baby owl to a strong and confident creature — reflecting the student’s initial vulnerability to math and showing a path to mastery.

The owl story does something more. It ties math to emotions. This is incredibly important because emotions matter. If math feels like it matters that leads to student motivation and raises the likelihood for math passion and lowers the risk of math anxiety.

As a teacher you can easily hack your students emotional outcomes from math class. Simply talk with students about their emotions in relation to math. If they express anxiety, self-doubt and a lack of motivation you should talk about those emotions, showing them that these are normal and perfectly valid emotions. Write them on a blackboard or ask students to write them in their personal math journals.

The next step is to give them exercises and praising their efforts. Any exercise-tool you are comfortable with is good, but select one that lets you focus on students’ experience instead of exercise management (Digit Dare is perfect for this). You might want to hold back on introducing new material in this part of the process. Try to show them that they can progress and that growth is a guaranteed outcome of effort and so is praise.

Make sure you get that point across through repetition: Growth and praise are guaranteed results of effort. Mistakes and errors are merely proof of effort and learning opportunities.

Once progress has started to manifest itself, you can do another session of emotion discovery, and talk about the change in feelings about math and motivation. When students have mastered the first set of exercises you can revisit their emotions for the last time. Coach them to express how much they have grown and how effort has changed negative emotions to positive.

You should keep making time for emotion processing, slowly letting the process internalize in the students. After a couple of months, students only need a quick reminder to be mindful of their feelings and focus on effort to achieve their goal.

I hope this perspective was of use. If so please like, discuss and share. You can support my efforts in improving emotional math outcomes by sharing this post and trying our first game Digit Dare.

L O A D I N G

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