When the “M” in STEM stands for Mathematics and Mindfulness
Picture provided by the author, attribution CC-BY
Mathematics is a crucial subject for every student as it provides a strong foundation for many other disciplines. However, many students struggle with mathematics due to a variety of reasons, including a lack of motivation, fear of failure, and negative attitudes towards the subject. Mindfulness and social-emotional learning (SEL) can play a vital role in improving maths performance by addressing these challenges.
Mindfulness and mathematics may seem like unrelated concepts, but they can be connected in the classroom to support student learning and well-being. The concept of mindfulness refers to the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment, and it can be applied to mathematics in several ways.
It can help students develop a growth mindset, which is essential for success in mathematics. Mindfulness practices can help students develop a growth mindset by teaching them to approach challenges with curiosity and openness rather than fear and avoidance. When students approach maths with a growth mindset, they believe that their abilities can improve with effort and practice, and they are more willing to take risks and persevere through challenges.
Strategies that help pupils concentrate are so important in this age of fast-paced change. Many students struggle with mathematics due to distractions and a lack of focus. Mindfulness practices can help students train their attention and become more aware of their thought patterns, which can improve their ability to concentrate on the tasks they are given.
Ask your students to graph their feelings during a lesson. This can be done with a simple worksheet on which they record their feelings during the learning process. How are they feeling in the beginning? Excited? Anxious? What about during the phase of independent learning? Perhaps they are confused. Asking them to draw a graph of their understanding during the different stages of a mathematics lesson is a great way to get my students to visualise their feelings in an effective way. Simple graphs showing their emotions during lessons helps teachers understand the student’s learning experience.
These strategies can be used to reduce anxiety, which is a common problem among students. When they are anxious about mathematics, they may experience negative emotions such as frustration and self-doubt and perform poorly on assessments. Helping students manage their anxiety by staying calm and shifting their attention away from negative thoughts is very important.
We can also use mindfulness to connect mathematics to real-life experiences and promote a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. Mindful practices such as journaling and reflection can help students make connections between mathematics and their daily lives, which can increase their engagement and motivation to learn.
In my classroom, I encourage outdoor learning and the application of flexible learning spaces. Taking my students outside the classroom, and getting them to observe shapes, patterns, symmetry and fractions around us is a great way to get them to connect mathematics to the world around us. A change in the learning environment is beneficial to their learning as they are encouraged to apply their mathematical knowledge and thinking to everyday experiences.
Closely connected to mindfulness is social-emotional learning. This refers to the process of developing skills that enable individuals to manage their emotions, build positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. These skills can be applied to various aspects of life, including academic success. When students have strong SEL skills, they are better equipped to face academic challenges, including mathematics.
One of the critical aspects of SEL that can help students improve in mathematics is self-awareness. By understanding their emotions and how they affect their behaviour, students can develop strategies to manage negative emotions such as frustration. These strategies can help them stay focused on the task at hand.
Learning social-emotional skills also helps students build positive relationships with their peers and teachers. In maths classrooms, collaboration is often essential to solving complex problems. When students have positive relationships with their peers, they are more likely to feel comfortable asking for help, sharing their ideas, and working together to solve problems.
Another key aspect of social-emotional learning that is relevant to mathematics is responsible decision-making. Students who have strong decision-making skills are better equipped to make informed choices about their learning, such as setting achievable goals, prioritising tasks, and managing their time effectively. These skills can help students take ownership of their learning, which is critical for success in mathematics and other academic subjects.
The “M” in STEM does stand for mathematics but perhaps we can combine it with a mindfulness approach. By developing skills such as self-awareness, positive relationships, and responsible decision-making, students can overcome many of the challenges that can hinder their progress in mathematics. As educators, it is crucial to prioritise social-emotional learning alongside academic learning to support the development of students as well-rounded individuals.
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for supporting student learning and well-being in mathematics. By incorporating mindfulness practices into mathematical instruction, teachers can help students develop a growth mindset, improve their focus and attention, reduce maths anxiety, and deepen their understanding of mathematical concepts.
Anita Simac is a Mathematics teacher mentor in a primary and lower secondary school in Zadar, Croatia. She has been a Scientix ambassador since 2016 and is a passionate educator who believes that teaching her students with empathy, commitment and creativity can change the world.
Tags: mathematics, mindfulness, social-emotional learning, STEM