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.
-end-
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:

A new method for boosting the learning of mathematics
How can mathematics learning in primary school be facilitated? UNIGE has developed an intervention to promote the learning of math in school.
Could mathematics help to better treat cancer?
Impaired information processing may prevent cells from perceiving their environment correctly; they then start acting in an uncontrolled way and this can lead to the development of cancer.
People can see beauty in complex mathematics, study shows
Ordinary people see beauty in complex mathematical arguments in the same way they can appreciate a beautiful landscape painting or a piano sonata.
Improving geothermal HVAC systems with mathematics
Sustainable heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, such as those that harness low-enthalpy geothermal energy, are needed to reduce collective energy use and mitigate the continued effects of a warming climate.
How the power of mathematics can help assess lung function
Researchers at the University of Southampton have developed a new computational way of analyzing X-ray images of lungs, which could herald a breakthrough in the diagnosis and assessment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases.
Mathematics pushes innovation in 4-D printing
New mathematical results will provide a potential breakthrough in the design and the fabrication of the next generation of morphable materials.
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.
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.
More Mathematics News and Mathematics Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.