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News from Mathnasium of Eastvale

Overcoming Math Anxiety: Mathnasium Focuses on Depth of Understanding

Apr 8, 2019

Can you remember that feeling?

That feeling of sitting in your desk in elementary school anxiously awaiting your teaching to pass out the single assignment you dreaded most.

The timed test.

That is the feeling of math anxiety. This seemingly simple assignment fills so many young, growing minds with so much anxiety that it causes them to freeze. It takes a student who, without the constraints of time, would normally do fine on the same quiz, and creates so much fear within the student that neither the teacher nor the student get a true picture of mathematical understanding.

These feelings of fear, anxiety and pressure are not limited to students who are already struggling in math. In her article written for Teaching Children Mathematics addressing the issue of timed tests causing math anxiety, Jo Boaler, a Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University, suggests that even those who have an aptitude to perform at higher levels, but are slower, deeper thinkers, experience anxiety about those timed tests. Unfortunately, Boaler notes that for those students who are already struggling, their feelings of math anxiety over timed tests only deepen their underachievement.

In the article, Boaler states: “Learning is a process that takes time, and it cannot be accelerated by methods that encourage speed at the extent of understanding.”  Mathematical thinking is not about how fast a student can compute, but, more importantly, it’s about the process the student takes to get there.

At Mathnasium, students and instructors focus on depth of understanding rather than speed. We want to alleviate math anxiety and build confidence.

To achieve this, we:

Recognize Students Need Time and Space

In the Mathnasium setting, students are provided the opportunity to work independently with an instructor close at hand to assist when needed. This gives students the ability to work at their own pace, to think about the problems, and to come up with a solution. They are not pressured from the outside factors—time, their peers, and comparing themselves to others around them—that are present in a classroom setting. They have the time and support to practice and use Number Sense to come up with a method of solving a problem that makes sense to them.

Encourage Different Approaches

It’s important for students to recognize that there are multiple ways to solve a problem. There is not a right way to get to the correct answer. The process of finding the answer needs to make sense to students. Instead of focusing on the rote memorization of math facts, Mathnasium equips students to find the solution a different way. For example, let’s solve 13x12. One way you may choose to solve this problem—and the way most of us were taught—is writing out the factors and multiplying it out. Another way to solve the problem is to use mental math to break the problem into two new problems—10x12 and 3x12—and adding the products together. Both methods will get the same answer and take time to solve, but students must be able to have the time and space to figure out the method that works best for them.

Ask Students to Explain

Irrelevant of whether their answer is correct, instructors at Mathnasium will commonly ask students to explain how they arrived at an answer. This reinforces their understanding of their own thought process and/or enables them to recognize their mistake (if the answer was incorrect). Math is not about just learning facts; it’s about understanding how the numbers and patterns fit together to solve problems. If they can explain how they know that 5x7 is 35, their understanding is much deeper than merely reciting a fact they memorized.

At Mathnasium, we support students as they learn math. We give them the freedom to explore different methods of solving problems, empower them to trust themselves, and build their confidence in their abilities in the process.

To see how Mathnasium can help calm your child’s math anxiety, contact us today! Call (951) 666-7895, email 


Boaler, Jo. “Research suggests times tests cause math anxiety.” NCTM: Teaching Children Mathematics, vol. 20, no. 8, 2014. pp. 469-473. Web. Accessed June 25, 2017.