Wed | Jul 18, 2018

Innovative approach helps students overcome mathematics phobia

Published:Sunday | July 2, 2017 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
From left: Asanya Pryce, Mordecai Calrke, Sidoney Smith, and Tavian Brown - top-performing Grade Six Achievement Test students from Rollington Town Primary School in Kingston.
Nicole Fray-Johnson, grade six coordinator at the Rollington Town Primary School in Kingston.

Mathematics has been a challenge for many students across Jamaica, which is not unique to the island, but is a universal phenomenon. The bigger challenge is for the educators, who are toying with ideas on how to reverse the tide and bring positive results.

The subject, though, has seen a four per cent increase in the recent Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT); however, teachers still point to the number of methodologies they employed to teach the subject, as many students were bombarded with phobias, hatred and resentment.

One such student was Asanya Pryce, a student at the Rollington Town Primary School in Kingston, who, in an interview with Arts and Education recently, described the fear she had for the subject.

"It (GSAT) was challenging because my weak area is math. It's very complicated. there were many times I felt like giving up and actually cried," she said.

She got 78 per cent in the subject and her overall average was 83 per cent.

Her teacher and grade six coordinator at the school, Nicole Fray-Johnson, attested to the challenges she faced in getting certain concepts across to students like Pryce.

"Generally, it (GSAT) was a lot of work, especially with the math; Assanya, in particular, has a phobia for math. Her phobia for math was so great. Simple addition, she was unable to do, so I had to come up with new strategies," she said.

"I realised that I had to have a math class with the weakest students with no more than ten. So I had a class up to 5 or 5.30 p.m. after extra lessons. I also had to implement 7 o'clock (morning) classes.

Similarly, Cadena Lumsden-Walcott, grade six teacher at the Allman Town Primary School in Kingston, said teaching the subject presented a number of challenges, but she declared that most students succeeded in their endeavours.


"To be honest with you, they found it a challenge. A number of them, at times, expressed that it was not something that they liked or they rather do something else," she said. "Sometimes you would teach a topic and when you think that they understand, you realise that you would have to go back and teach certain aspects and give them hands-on things to do so that the concept would get across better to them".

"If they are doing something like fractions, I would have them draw, colour and cut out the shapes and fit the shapes together. For projects, you would give them shapes to make, like the polygons and so forth."

She said that overall, she is satisfied with the results even though there were areas that needed improvement.

"I know its different elsewhere, but for my students, my girls are hard workers. I had to push my boys more. In terms of the results, the ones who quarrelled and had problems, it showed in their results, and the ones who took the time to do the work, it also showed in the results," Walcott said.

"I had a student who got 95 per cent in math. he wasn't very strong, but he was one of them who took the time out when he didn't understand to come to me and say: 'I don't understand please explain'."

In offering advice, she said, "You have to have an open mind and practise. Practice is critical."