Why Do Your Students Say They Are Bad At Math?

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The Short Answer: They’re scared.

I am terrified of skydiving; can I expect to ever be good at it? Of course – if you push through the fear and practice, you can be good at most things. But “It is human nature for people to spend more time doing the things they enjoy. People embrace things they are good at. If students “do not understand” mathematics, they will lose confidence and avoid math whenever possible” (Piper).

This usually starts when students take their first math class. If they did not understand the way math was taught, it causes them to do poorly and avoid it altogether. This avoidance can limit student confidence and competence in math and their phobia gets renamed as “not being good at it.”


Why are students so negative about math?

Jumping to Conclusions

Many people jump to conclusions, but children jump to conclusions much faster. According to Michael Grose, many children jump to conclusions when negative situations occur. This is expected of children because their ability to self-evaluate and self-regulate at a young age isn’t very strong (Rice). If a student does poorly on a math test, they jump to the conclusion: I am bad at math.

Math Anxiety

This attitude can develop “test anxiety” among students. “Research on test anxiety has shown…highly anxious students are overly concerned with…possible failure” (Wigfield, Meece). This anxiety creates a lack of confidence in students and it can be expanded to become a general “math anxiety.”  Many elementary students have trouble understanding traditional lessons and tests; this can cause depleted math confidence and competence. Fear of poor performance in math can cause students to stay away from it all together and not even attempt their math homework. “The negative emotional states..can interfere with attentional and learning processes so that test or task performance is impaired” (Wigfield et al). For many students with math anxiety, “even the prospect of doing math…elicits a negative emotional response” (Ramirez et al).  


What can teachers do to deflect this issue?

  • Help students take the focus away from themselves. If your students say, “I am bad at math,” when working on a specific problem, say, “this problem is challenging.”
  • Encourage a growth mindset, avoid phrases like “I am bad at math” which can work as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you say you are bad at something, it can challenging to be successful.
  • Since many young children are kinesthetic and/or visual learners incorporating movement-based learning can help students jumpstart their math confident and abilities.  
  • Develop multi-sensory teaching strategies that help anxious students and all learning types (kinesthetic, visual, auditory).


It’s definitely easier to learn when you’re having fun. 

Math & Movement keeps students excited about learning. Incorporating fun, movement-based activities can increase the student understanding and achievement and decreases math avoidance. Take students away from negative, unsuccessful feelings to a positive, successful, “I can do math!” confident approach to learning. It is exciting to know there is a way to shift the paradigm and start hearing students say they are good at math!


Math & Movement works.

Math & Movement uses movement-based learning to boost students’ confidence and achievement. The bright colors and large numbers and letters on mats and banners make learning math effective and enjoyable for children, thus decreasing frustration levels. Adding the Math & Movement program to the existing curriculum allows students to physically hop, walk, crawl, dance, or touch the patterns as they learn, using more learning modalities (visual, auditory, motor and kinesthetic) when practicing.

View our products at www.mathmadefun.com!


Grose, Michael. Teach Kids to Think Before They Jump to Conclusions. Parenting Ideas.

Perdue, Bev. (2015). Why We’re Bad at Math: It’s a Confidence Thing. Education Post.

Piper, Bradley D. (2008).  Attitudes, Confidence, and Achievement of High-Ability Fifth Grade Math Students. Math in the Middle Institute Partnership at DigitalCommons. Summative Projects for MA Degree. 7. 1-49.

Ramirez, Gerardo. Gunderson, Elizabeth A. Levine, Susan C. Beilock, Sian L.. (2012). Math

Anxiety, Working Memory and Math Achievement in Early Elementary School. Journal of Cognition and Development. 1-35.

Schlanger, Danielle. (2012). The Optimal Level of Anxiety You Need to Perform Well. Business Insider.

Weaver, Steve. I can’t do math! Self-fulfilling Prophecies in Learning. Fort Wayne Center for Learning.

Wigfield, Allan. Meece, Judith L. (1988). Math Anxiety in Elementary and Secondary School Students. Journal of Educational Psychology. 80(2). 210-216.

Zakaria, Effandi. Nordin, Norazah M. (2008). The Effects of Mathematics Anxiety on

Matriculation Students as Related to Motivation and Achievement. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education. 4(1). 27-30)


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