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National Heritage Academies Schools Tackle Math Anxiety by Offering Students Problem-based Curriculum

NHA Communications Team  |  March 12, 2021
Mathematics is a vital skill that people use throughout their daily lives; from tracking finances to using measurements in a recipe, learning mathematics skills at an early age is a necessary and valuable skill for students now and as adults later in life.

However, various studies indicate that children and adults who feel stressed or nervous when faced with doing basic math-related functions may be experiencing “math anxiety.” In fact, “In a representative survey of U.S. teachers, 67 percent told the EdWeek Research Center that math anxiety was a challenge for their students, and one in four said they often feel anxious doing math themselves.”
Students writing at a table.
School leaders at National Heritage Academies (NHA) continuously work to combat math-related anxieties by making the subject relatable and less intimidating to students. NHA’s Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) team developed the organization’s math curriculum to cultivate a mathematical growth mindset by focusing on conceptual understanding and developing problem-solving skills that can be transferred to real-life decision making.
“Our students use math stories and games as part of the problem-based curriculum,” said Elisa Gibbs, director of math curriculum at NHA. “Math isn’t a checklist of skills. Everything for our kindergarten through eighth-grade curriculum is connected, aimed at moving students along a developmental trajectory.”
Students writing together at a table.
In re-imagining an effective mathematics curriculum, NHA leaders moved away from memorization and drills to a problem-based approach, leaning heavily towards students building number sense and fluency. Similar to how students learn language arts by speaking, reading, and writing, these concepts also are beneficial in understanding mathematics. Reasoning is at the core of mathematics, encouraging students to think through why methods make sense and talking about different approaches.
Student reading with others.
“Math can be fun; it’s creative and about different ways of thinking,” said Gibbs. “Math is for all of us.” She shared that the role of school leaders and teachers is to encourage students not to be fearful or scared. “We learn from trying things out, sharing ideas, and listening to our peers.”
One fun way NHA schools encourage creativity in math is by participating in annual Pi Day celebrations. Keystone Academy seventh-grade students associate creativity with math by entering the digits of PI into a graph to create an artistic and mathematical skyline.  
Artwork of a city skyline.
In 2019, one Milwaukee Scholars Charter School sixth-grader stunned his classmates by reciting the first 115 digits of Pi during a school-wide assembly and has held the school record since!

Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi Day is an annual opportunity for math enthusiasts to recite the digits of Pi, talk with friends about math, and eat pie.

About National Heritage Academies:
National Heritage Academies is a network of 90 tuition-free, public charter schools across nine states, serving more than 60,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. For more information, visit