Student Rights and Well-Being

Writing about feelings improves math test performance

via Garrett Eastman

Sara Reardon reports on research by research by psychologists Gerardo Ramirez and Sian Beilock published in "Science":

In the study, the researchers asked college students to take a math exam covering material they had never seen before. Then things got even more stressful. The students were given a second exam, but this time they were told that they would receive money if they passed. They were also told that they had a partner who had already done well and who would be let down if they failed, and that they would be videotaped while taking the test so that their teachers and friends could watch.
Before beginning the second test, some students were asked to write about their emotions, and the others were told to sit quietly. The students who aired their anxieties showed an average 5% improvement on the second test, whereas the others broke under pressure and their scores dropped by 12%.
It wasn't just the distraction of writing that assuaged the worried minds. Students who were told to write about a past experience or about the material they thought would be on the test did worse than those who addressed their feelings.
"Writing about their worries allows the students to reexamine the testing situation and reappraise it," Beilock says. "This frees memory resources and increases the ability to focus."

Math Anxiety Bill of Rights

by Murray Bourne

This is interesting: Student’s Math Anxiety Bill of Rights, by Sandra Davis (possibly this person).
I have re-ordered the list and grouped them according to the main themes.
external image math-anxiety-bill-of-rights.jpg


  • I have the right to learn at my own pace and not feel put down or stupid if I’m slower than someone else.
  • I have the right to feel good about myself regardless of my abilities in math.
  • I have the right to relax.
  • I have the right not to base my self-worth on my math skills.
  • I have the right to dislike math.

Learning approaches

  • I have the right to ask whatever questions I have.
  • I have the right to need extra help.
  • I have the right to ask a teacher or tutor for help.
  • I have the right to say I don’t understand.
  • I have the right to not understand.


  • I have the right to view myself as capable of learning math.
  • I have the right to be treated as a competent person.
  • I have the right to define success in my own terms.

360° (evaluation works both ways)

  • I have the right to evaluate my math instructors and how they teach.
(Source: Univ of Minnesota)

The right to physical well-being while doing math

by Maria Droujkova, Murray Bourne

  • I have the right to eat nutritious food before, during and after math activities. Math requires much energy.
  • I have the right to position my body and move around in ways that make me most focused and comfortable.
  • I have the right to schedule breaks based on my needs.
  • I have the right to use concentration and relaxation aids, such as music and tactile "toys."
  • I have the right to be alone or not to be alone. I have the right to be with supportive people and communities whenever I need them. I have the right to work privately, by myself.
  • I have the right to arrange my learning around my sleep patterns and sleep needs.

Personality and individualization rights

by Carol Cross

  • I have the right to solve a math problem in the way that makes sense to me, rather than having to follow the "normal" or typical solution methodology.
  • I have the right of consideration of how my answer could be right rather than just being told that I am wrong.
  • I have the right to use the tools I need to solve the problem in my preferred learning modality, such as paper if I am a visual learner, or manipulatives if I can a tactile learner.
  • I have the right to refuse to "show my work" if I choose not to (for those who can solve things in their heads but have difficulty in articulating how they got the answer, even if it is the right one).

Methods rights

by Kalli Shevzov, December 2010

  • I have the right to estimate an answer, then work a more formal solution if needed. Sometimes, an estimation is enough.
  • I have the right to offer off the wall methods of problem solving. Illustrating absurd solutions is clarifying for me.
  • I have the right to be silly about math. I think the mechanism is that joking and giggling reduces anxiety and clears a path for more logical thought. This is very helpful for word problems.

General learning and topic-specific rights

by Angela Giuliani and Noah (9)

My son and I came up with some ideas for the math anxiety bill of rights.

  • I have the right to DO math regardless of my gender, age or size.
  • I have the right to forge ahead of my age related peers and take it as far as I can go as fast as I need to.
  • I have the right to review.
  • I have the right to ask questions about math and math results without being labeled disrespectful.
  • I have the right to relate math to other things that I already know to help me understand it better.
  • I have the right to forget.

  • I have the right to review my math in my head.
  • I have the right to make experiments with math sequences.
  • I have the right to create math sequences while doing other math things.
  • I have the right to have fun while doing math.
  • I have the right to ask how the math sequences work.

Math-friendly rights

By Loren Renee

Can we add some more math-friendly elements, for example:

  • I have the right to "be good" with math.
  • I have the right to celebrate my mathematical achievements great and small without feeling guilty. (Nobody makes athletes feel guilty.)
  • I have the right to make mistakes free of an audience that is waiting for me to make a mistake so they can feel better about their own errors.
  • I have the right to pursue my mathematical interests at my own level and pace.
  • I have the right to have difficulties in other areas. Being good at math should not forfeit my right to have difficulties elsewhere.
  • I have the right to challenge my math skills.
  • I have the right to variety and the right not to be bored by more repetition than I require to master the concepts.
  • I have the right to enjoy some aspects of math more than others.
  • I have the right to enjoy pure numbers without corruption by other subjects.
  • I have the right to enjoy the mathematical aspects of other subjects, such as the role of math in music.

Given the pervasiveness of math phobias and my son's experiences I think that the right to enjoy and even love math is socially taboo. My son often gets frustrated by peripheral aspects of the assignment, i.e. he enjoys doing the problem solving but doesn't like coloring the picture, like when they have a stained glass outline and each section gets color coded by the solution of individual spaces.

Baba the Storyteller on math well-being

June 2009

Baba the Storyteller shared one of his stories, "Sleeping Beauty," with an education innovation discussion group. A reply about math well-being led Baba to our projects on Natural Math. Now his voice is a part of the math well-being story, too! Baba's podcast is such a wonderful gift to Natural Math and to Maria D.

Five things that keep you sane while doing math: A math club activity

by Maria Droujkova and Natural Math Club, May 2009

Write-up of the club activity

What are five things that keep you sane while doing math? The club members giggled, too, when I asked this. Then we started making our lists of things that keep us mentally and emotionally healthy. The idea came from, "a social movement to promote individual self-management of mental wellbeing" created by Andy Gibson.

Laurel B, a math club organizer from California, told me recently that the question, "But WHY do these activities?" comes up in her parent groups. I realized that a big part of what we do in math clubs is setting up and developing answers to this question before and during and sometimes long after the activities. So, why this one?

  • It's meaningful: I asked math club members to raise hands if they ever felt bad doing math. Most (I am pleasantly surprised that not all) people not only raised hands, but also volunteered some of their math anxiety horror stories. Sharing ways to cope was meaningful individually. Also, all together, our math clubs can now contribute to worthy community causes. Murray Bourne of whose work on math anxiety I mentioned to the club members, distributes coping tips in his newsletters. We can help others by sharing our collective lists too, participating in and broader communities, helping people like Murray and Andy in their worthy quests.
  • It's fun: List making is a popular pastime in general! It is a source of many internet memes, holiday traditions, and games.
  • It's useful: As Katherine said after the club, "When I am feeling really bad, I can't remember any of those tips for makign me feel better!" That's why it's nice to accumulate a list of things that make you feel good ahead of time, put it up on the fridge, and be prepared.

The Friday group had a great idea for making our list beautiful, too, by adding comics to it! Connor and David made a few funny pictures already. Maybe next time we can illustrate more. Meanwhile, here is the master list of all the things that help club members feel good and stay sane while doing math. It has wonderful suggestions.

Looking at this list made me realize that typical, traditional, conventional ways of doing mathematics carefully exclude most things that keep us happy, healthy and sane. Here is some food for thought. Do your math practices promote mental and emotional well-being, or drive you and your family mad?
Pet something fluffy
Hold a fluffy thing
Pet the cat
Pet the dog
My dog
Pet the cat
Petting Tash
Cats, dogs, and rats
Pet dog-(companion in effort)- walk dog
Petting a cat or other pet
Pet Sadie
Hold my cat
Thinking about what we will eat (when cooking)
Cookies and pie
Eat something
Baking (kneading) bread
Have a snack
Eat a snack
Listen to music
Listen to music
Listening to music
Playing piano
Listen to music
Make noise
Listen to music
Make noise
Make noise
Listen to music

Play video games
Play Wii
Play Zoo Tycoon
Shoot elves
Play video games
Playing video games
Play Runescape
Play Runescape - best! yaaah!

Stay outside if weather & bugs permit
Go outside
Playing outside
Sitting out side.
Work outside
Go outside

Move around/Change of scenery/Take a short break
Take a break
Take a break
Taking a break
Take a short break

Watch movies or TV
Watch TDI movies
Watch TV
Go on

Deep breaths
Take a deep breath
Start breathing deep
Take a deep breath

Draw pictures

Drink tea
Drinking tea
Make cup of coffee

Sing the happy song (not the bad part)
Sing the shoes song (the also not bad part)
Sing a song

Be with my whole family
Be together with people we love
My father

Ask for help
Find someone who knows how to do it to explain it to me
Ask for help

Walking in a forest
Taking a walk

Start over - I often find something I've missed
Try again

Patty cake

Jump on trampoline
Bouncing ball

Duck tape your sisters mouth, relax, and start on your math again
Bug Zak (twin brother)

Remind myself I can do it

Jump on it (the piece of paper w/ the math on it)

Try to isolate the problem to make it more manageable

Look at an example of a similar problem

Look at the solution to the problem so that i can try to understand it

Squishy ball

Talk with someone

Shoot baskets


The thought that calculators could be evil or malfunctioning

Stopping math for the day

Mathematics breakthrough

Just stare out the window

Do something else

Looking at my cats

Messing up


Use a lot of colors
Use colorful pencils


Look at flowers

Taking a short nap

Excercising, Stretching in doorway

Use accupressure points between thumb and wrist

Use aromatherapy oils (Eucalyptus, lavendar)

Working in garden-getting into earth

"Box" the problem (literally put the project in a box and close the lid)

Avoid European courts

Imagine relaxing on a hammock, swinging in the breeze on a beach, and having a tropical drink

Destroy something

Practice archery

Focus on da future

Relaxing in bed

Sitting up in a tree


Play with fire

Become a werewolf then wait till the full moon and do your math

My shoes (wheelies)

Make a goal to be done

Don't think too hard

Tell him to ask his father

Look it up on the internet

Think about Jonny Depp

List by Lori Itano

This is hysterical! Too bad I didn't have this list when I was in school!

Here are our "things that keep us sane":
1. Don't do math very much (at one stretch of time)
2. Stop when eyes glaze over or when comprehension is nonexistent.
3. Let dinnertime turn into a "Dad quizzing" time (Apparently when your kids have never gone to school, they really enjoy quizzes!)
4. Give your kids abacuses and math charts in page protectors in their beds, and put times tables posters on the ceiling of their bedroom. Give them skip count music to listen to at night. Since my four boys are all in the same room, they sometimes use these as extensions of Dad's quizzing time at dinner!
5. Never tell them math isn't fun!

These work, mostly because (a) my kids have never been in school, nor have we done math curriculum, so they don't have a negative association with math (except for the occasional math page, which they hate because of the writing component rather than the math component); and (b) my kids are all 10 and under!

I realize these aren't traditional "avoidance measures," but they do help us survive.

List by EvaLinda DeVita

This is wonderful!

I actually never had any math anxiety, and always did very well in math as it was presented in school, because it appealed to the puzzle loving part of my brain. My kids however, are very different, and I'm having to completely relearn how to approach math with them.

I guess to keep sane I
-let my creative, ADHD 9yo daughter systematically transform my carefully planned activity. After all, it's for her benefit, not mine, and later on she'll spontaneously create her own games to teach her brothers.
-let my 6yo son stomp on the book and run outside when he gets frustrated. If I let him go, he'll be compelled to come back in an hour or so and figure it out.
-give my 1 and 4 yo their own manipulatives and pages. I'll get no peace if they're not included, and I know they'll benfit from taking part.
-try as many different approaches as I can think of until I find something that works for them.
-remind myself that math is more than just a list of rules, it can be creative, artistic, kinetic and fun.