Learning Systems Institute awarded $1.5M grant to develop math anxiety intervention for children

Math can make students anxious, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Using strategies from cognitive behavioral therapy, faculty members with the Learning Systems Institute (LSI) at Florida State University will develop a school-based intervention for second- and third-graders with math anxiety. A three-year $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will fund the work.

“A lot of people experience math anxiety, and it can develop in really young children and persist as they get older,” said Associate Professor of Developmental Psychology Colleen Ganley. “Unfortunately, people with math anxiety tend to have a harder time with math and are less likely to take higher-level math courses or pursue STEM careers. We wanted to address math anxiety early so we could decrease the chances of negative educational impacts later in life.”

The project aims principally to develop math anxiety intervention. Researchers will adapt an existing classroom-based intervention and add exposure components from cognitive behavioral therapy interventions, which have been found to decrease anxiety for children with other anxiety-related disorders. Through the development process, researchers will create a child intervention workbook, facilitator session guides and facilitator training materials.

To test whether the intervention decreases math anxiety, researchers will compare math anxiety in the children who participate in the intervention to those who do not. They will also investigate whether changes in working memory and math avoidance are contributing to improvements. That investigation will inform possible changes to the intervention materials, which they will share with other researchers, teachers and school administrators.

“This research will contribute to our understanding of how math anxiety and math achievement are related, as well as whether this intervention can decrease math anxiety and improve learning,” Ganley said. “This intervention, if found effective, has the potential to lead to long-term improvements in learning for children with math anxiety and can help make it a more positive experience.”

The project is supported by the NSF’s Education and Human Resources (EHR) Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field.

This research is in collaboration with Alexandria Meyer, an associate professor of clinical psychology at FSU; Sara Hart, a professor and W. Russell and Eugenia Morcom Chair in Psychology and research faculty at the Florida Center for Reading Research; and Maria Chiara Passolunghi, a professor of developmental and educational psychology at University of Trieste, Italy.

The Learning Systems Institute (LSI) at Florida State University is at the forefront of developing innovative solutions that bridge theory and practice in education. LSI’s experts provide state-of-the-art methods as well as a clear path for implementation. For more than 50 years, LSI has delivered systems that measurably improve the learning and performance of organizations and individuals here in Florida and across the world.