Nav: Home

Educational psychology: Finding the fun in maths

February 08, 2017

New work by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich researchers on students' emotional attitudes to mathematics confirms that positive emotions and success at learning in math mutually reinforce each other.

Research has shown that students' learning and cognitive performance can be influenced by emotional reactions to learning, like enjoyment, anxiety, and boredom. Most studies on this topic have been done in labs. Now a new longitudinal study out of Germany investigates how students' emotions in a school context relate to their achievement. The study focused on achievement in math, which is not only important for education and economic productivity but is also known to prompt strong emotional reactions in students. It appears in the journal Child Development.

"We found that emotions influenced students' math achievement over the years," explains Reinhard Pekrun, professor of psychology at LMU Munich and Australian Catholic University, who led the research. "Students with higher intelligence had better grades and test scores, but those who also enjoyed and took pride in math had even better achievement. Students who experienced anger, anxiety, shame, boredom, or hopelessness had lower achievement."

The research was conducted as part of the Project for the Analysis of Learning and Achievement in Mathematics (PALMA). It included annual assessments of emotions and achievement in math in 3,425 German students from grades 5 through 9. Students were representative of the student population of Bavaria, which primarily includes youth from nonimmigrant White families, but represents a broad mix of socioeconomic backgrounds and both urban and rural locations. Students' self-reported emotions were measured by questionnaires, and their achievement was assessed by year-end grades and scores on a math achievement test.

The study also found that achievement affected students' emotions over time: "Successful performance in math increased students' positive emotions and decreased their negative emotions over the years," according to Stephanie Lichtenfeld, senior lecturer at LMU, who coauthored the study. "In contrast, students with poor grades and test scores suffered from a decline in positive emotions and an increase in negative emotions, such as math anxiety and math boredom. Thus, these students become caught in a downward spiral of negative emotion and poor achievement."

The study's finding that emotions influenced achievement held constant even after taking into account the effects of other variables, including students' intelligence and gender, and families' socioeconomic status.

The results are consistent with previous studies showing that emotions and academic achievement are correlated, but they go beyond these by disentangling the directional effects underlying this link. Specifically, the research suggests that emotions influence adolescents' achievement over and above the effects of general cognitive ability and prior accomplishments, the authors note.

The study's authors recommend that educators, administrators, and parents work to strengthen students' positive emotions and minimize negative emotions related to school subjects, for example, by helping students gain a greater sense of control over their performance. They also suggest that providing students with opportunities to experience success may help reduce negative feelings and facilitate emotional well-being, which can promote students' educational attainment.
Future research on this topic could explore whether the pattern found here pertains to other age groups and academic subjects. The research was supported by LMU and the German Research Foundation.

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Related Mathematics Articles:

More democracy through mathematics
For democratic elections to be fair, voting districts must have similar sizes.
How to color a lizard: From biology to mathematics
Skin color patterns in animals arise from microscopic interactions among colored cells that obey equations discovered by Alan Turing.
Mathematics supports a new way to classify viruses based on structure
New research supports a structure-based classification system for viruses which could help in the identification and treatment of emerging viruses.
US educators awarded for exemplary teaching in mathematics
Janet Heine Barnett, Caren Diefenderfer, and Tevian Dray were named the 2017 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award winners by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) for their teaching effectiveness and influence beyond their institutions.
Authors of year's best books in mathematics honored
Prizes for the year's best books in mathematics were awarded to Ian Stewart and Tim Chartier by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) on Jan.
The mathematics of coffee extraction: Searching for the ideal brew
Composed of over 1,800 chemical components, coffee is one of the most widely-consumed drinks in the world.
Even physicists are 'afraid' of mathematics
Physicists avoid highly mathematical work despite being trained in advanced mathematics, new research suggests.
Mathematics and music: New perspectives on the connections between these ancient arts
World-leading experts on music and mathematics present insights on the connections between these two ancient arts, especially as they relate to composition and performance, as well as creativity, education, and geometry.
Kindergarteners' mathematics success hinges on preschool skills
In a study funded by the National Science Foundation, researchers at the University of Missouri discovered that preschoolers who better process words associated with numbers and understand the quantities associated with these words are more likely to have success with math when they enter kindergarten.
First international mathematics research institute launched in Australia
World leaders in the mathematical sciences are visiting Melbourne for a series of research programs at Australia's first international research institute for mathematics and statistics.

Related Mathematics Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Moving Forward
When the life you've built slips out of your grasp, you're often told it's best to move on. But is that true? Instead of forgetting the past, TED speakers describe how we can move forward with it. Guests include writers Nora McInerny and Suleika Jaouad, and human rights advocate Lindy Lou Isonhood.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...