Kelli Anson's mission to solve our high school maths problem | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Kelli Anson's mission to solve our high school maths problem

Kelli Anson’s post-graduate research project started with a simple but profound goal: to help students who were experiencing maths anxiety.

The idea was born from Kelli’s 16 years of experience as a high school teacher, where her biggest challenge was reaching students who were struggling to engage with maths, despite the extra hands-on support they were receiving.

“Once I started looking into it, I was astounded to come across research on mathematics anxiety – Mathemaphobia, some people called it,” Kelli said.

“The more I dug into it, the more I could see it in my classrooms. The more I spoke to other people about it, the more I realised how common it was.”

That widespread apprehension about maths is reflected in Australia’s NAPLAN results too, with almost half the 1.2 million students who were assessed on numeracy this year failing to meet expectations.

Kelli is determined and passionate about turning that around. However, she realises it takes baby steps before progress can leap forward.

“I’m a big believer in having a connection with students – you have to have a connection with them before they can learn from you,” Kelli said.

“I had one young lady in class who would feel physically unwell as she walked through the door – it was an anxiety reaction about going into the maths classroom.”

“I would walk beside her as she walked in the door. She loved the TV show Friends, so we would talk about Friends as she came in, which helped reduce her anxiety and feel more comfortable in the classroom.”

Through her Master of Education, Kelli learnt more about the mathematics anxiety cycle, which results in “classroom disengagement and long-term avoidance of mathematics and STEM related subjects and careers”.

Kelli wants to apply what she's learnt back in her classroom to help students who experience maths anxiety to engage with with the subject.

On top of this, that anxiety contributes to negative self-perceptions, it can crowd a student’s mind with unhelpful thoughts, and trigger painful neurological responses, creating a negative feedback loop, trapping students in the Mathematics Anxiety Cycle.

After completing her research, Kelli said she has developed a stronger understanding of the complex nature of mathematics anxiety and was ready to take that knowledge back into the classroom.

“I feel empowered and determined that I want to make a difference,” she said. “It’s important for me to think that I can one day have an impact and reduce the fear of math and make math learning easier for young people.”

Education Associate Professor Debbie Heck said the Master of Education was perfect for people like Kelli who wanted to expand on their experience by investigating an issue that would enhance their own teaching experience.

“Our lecturers are passionate about students receiving the support they need to not only succeed in their research but to excel,” Dr Heck said.

“Your work will not only benefit yourself, it has potential to create lasting societal change.”

Master of Education

A master’s degree designed to extend your knowledge of educational issues, deepen your professional expertise, providing skills needed to create a research-informed future for the education sector.

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