Female Preservice Teachers and Mathematics: Anxiety, Beliefs, and Stereotypes

Jul. 01, 2014

Source:  Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Vol. 35, Issue 3, p. 262–275, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aimed to examine if preservice teachers’ (PSTs) mathematics anxiety decreased and if their beliefs and stereotypes changed after they completed their early childhood mathematics methods course.
The authors wanted the PSTs to understand and recognize that their beliefs and stereotypes about math, along with their level of math anxiety, have a direct correlation to how they teach math, both positively and negatively.
It was hypothesized that by using and modeling concrete materials or manipulatives (Thompson, 1992; Vinson, 2001) and placing a greater emphasis on conceptual understanding (Bursal & Paznokas, 2006), two strategies identified as reducing PSTs’ mathematics anxiety, negative beliefs, and stereotypes that are associated with math anxiety, would diminish.

The participants were thirty preservice teachers, all women, who were enrolled in the early childhood mathematics methods course.
Using a qualitative research approach, measures included midcourse evaluations, a draw-a-mathematician task (Mewborn & Cross 2007), the Abbreviated Math Anxiety Scale (Hopko, Mahadevan, Bare, & Hunt, 2003), and anecdotal notes.


Negative math experiences lead PSTs to think they are not good at math, therefore they do not like math, nor do they take advanced math courses, which leads to the belief that they do not know enough math in order to be good math teachers or to teach math with confidence (Geist, 2010).
This lack of math knowledge and confidence then impacts the type of math teacher they become.
Many PSTs use traditional math methods of instruction where teachers tell the children what they need to know and provide them with answers to the problems.
In order to provide the PSTs alternative ways to teach math, this study implemented research-based practices aimed to math anxiety and change their negative beliefs and stereotypes.

Based on the midcourse evaluations, the authors found that PSTs cited that the class was active and fun, they loved all the hands-on activities and the variety of ways math manipulatives were taught and used, and they appreciated that the professor was energetic and enthusiastic.
This evidence suggested that the specific strategies utilized by the professor would have a positive impact on the PSTs’ beliefs and stereotypes about math, along with decreasing their level of math anxiety (Bursal & Paznokas, 2006).
Although the midcourse evaluations were very positive and confirmed that the classroom-based strategies appeared to be working, the post-drawings still showed 28 mathematicians working alone with seven illustrating classroom teachers putting problems on the board and almost half the them finishing the class with higher math anxiety, and approximately half of the PSTs finishing the semester with higher math anxiety.

Given that number of female mathematicians drawn increased from 6 to 12 the authors expected to find that the level of math anxiety experienced by the PSTs had decreased by the end of the semester.
However, the post-AMAS scores proved that basically half the PSTs experienced a decrease in anxiety while the other half felt more math anxious.
While the post-drawings of the draw-a-mathematician task did not demonstrate the change of PSTs’ beliefs and stereotypes that they had hoped, the authors will continue to implement appropriate strategies in the math methods course.

Additionally, given the high levels of negative math beliefs stated by the PSTs the authors also analyzed the drawings to see if the mathematicians were smiling or appeared to be happy.
They expected to find that more than half of the pre-drawings would feature frowning or unhappy mathematicians but that this number would decrease in the post-drawings.
However, the pre-drawings showed 22 smiling mathematicians, three frowning, and five unknown (mathematician was drawn from the back) and the post-drawings yielded 27 smiling, one frowning, and two unknown.
As math anxiety increased, some teachers did show an increase in anxiety about teaching mathematics, but others did not.
Therefore, the authors plan to include the mathematician’s demeanor in future courses via small-group discussions to extrapolate the difference between negative math beliefs and negative beliefs about teaching math.


Implication for Future Studies

Math anxiety and its causes need to be minimized in PSTs in order for more children to succeed and to break the cycle of negative math beliefs.
The next time the authors teach the early childhood mathematics methods course, they will use the same draw-a-mathematician task and they plan to follow up on the pre-drawings by having the PSTs work in small groups to discuss the gender of their mathematician, his or her facial expressions, and location.
They also plan to create a survey or scale that addresses anxiety related to teaching mathematics.
Their goal would be to try to separate math anxiety from teaching math anxiety.
In conclusion, the authors also believe that future studies should gather more information on field placement classrooms.
Bursal, M., & Paznokas, L. (2006). Mathematics anxiety and preservice elementary teachers’ confidence to teach mathematics and science. School, Science and Mathematics, 104(6), 173–180.
Geist, E. (2010). The anti-anxiety curriculum: Combating math anxiety in the classroom. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 37(1), 24–31.
Hopko, D. R, Mahadevan, R., Bare, R. L., & Hunt, M. K. (2003). The abbreviated math anxiety scale (AMAS). Assessment, 10(2), 178–182.
Mewborn, D. S., & Cross, D. I. (2007). Mathematics teachers’ beliefs about mathematics and links to students’ learning. In W. G. Martin, M. E. Strutchens, & P. C. Elliot (Eds.), The learning of mathematics, (pp. 259–269). Reston, VA: NCTM.

Thompson, A. G. (1992). Teachers beliefs and conceptions: A synthesis of the research. In D. Grouws(Ed.), Handbook of research on mathematics teaching and learning (pp. 12–15). New York, NY: Macmillan Pubishing Company.
Vinson, B. M. (2001). A comparison of preservice teachers’ mathematics anxiety before and after a methods class emphasizing manipulatives. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(2), 89–94.

Updated: Feb. 02, 2016