Calculators in the High School Classroom: Anxiety Levels and Attitude Towards Mathematics

May 1, 2020   /  

Student: Kendall Lloyd
Majors: Mathematics, Education
Advisors: Dr. Jillian Morrison, Dr. Marian Frazier

Kendall LloydStudents often fear failure in the math classroom, especially when performing various algebra calculations. Seeing equations with both numbers and letters can be very intimidating at first when the math skills are already weak, and a student typically uses a calculator. This Independent Study aims to focus on three factors related to students’ calculator use: Anxiety, Attitude, and Time. The research studied the self-rated anxiety levels when performing algebra problems using or not using a calculator and how this affects students’ attitude toward mathematics. The data was collected from Wayne County math students using an online survey during class time. The results conclude that relying on a calculator does affect student attitude towards math but does not influence a student’s anxiety levels. A student’s favorite subject and year of school is correlated with anxiety in a math classroom.

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Kendall will be online to field comments on May 8:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST 6am-8am, Africa/Europe: late afternoon)

70 thoughts on “Calculators in the High School Classroom: Anxiety Levels and Attitude Towards Mathematics”

  1. Hi Kendall 🙂 Really good and interesting study about high school students in Wayne County.

    As a future high school teacher, how do you think you can use what you learned to make a bigger impact on schools in Wayne County or Ohio or even the US?

    Do you have any future plans to further expand the scope of your study beyond Wayne County?

    1. Hello Dr. Morrison! First off thank you for your help and for being my advisor! I enjoyed working with you over the course of the year.

      If students limit their calculator usage, they will have less anxiety in the math classroom. At a bigger school, teachers have more students to cater to which could result in some students not getting the one- on-one time some may need. This could lead students to relying on the calculator instead of understanding the reasoning and trying to work hard for the teacher. If I show I care about the students interests and care about them as an individual outside my class as well, they will enjoy the learning environment. This will also allow the student to feel safe and able to ask questions when they lack understanding or need extra help. Keeping the students engaged and motivated can allow the student to want to work harder because there is a mutual level of respect and care towards the teacher and student.

      I could continue this study with my future students by seeing if there is a difference when limiting calculator usage from the start. Then I could have them take the same survey and timed test to see if the results and scores look differently.

  2. This is a very interesting study. You mention that gender has no effect on attitude to math, which surprises me. How many students did you survey? What percentage were female? Also, did you see a gendered difference in anxiety levels? Congratulations on completing your study, Ms. Lloyd!

    1. Thank you so much! 291 students were surveyed and that breaks down to 146 males, 143 females, 1 other, and 1 prefer not to say response. Very close to half of males and females to ensure my results were nonbiased. A higher number of females said they relied on a calculator than the number of males but both showed a high number of students. More than half of each agreed to relying on a calculator. When looking at anxiety levels, gender did not show a relationship because both had such a high number of students relying on the calculator.

  3. Great job Kendall! So interesting seeing the results of your study that Mateo (my son) was part of!

    Congratulations !!

    1. Thank you Kathy! And thank Mateo for taking part of my study, I appreciate all of the Waynedale and Wooster students who helped out!

  4. Hi Kendall.
    Congratulations on your I.S.! This is a very interesting project. I wonder if you could say a little more about the measurement tool you used to capture students’ feelings about math?

    This is such a great illustration of how I.S. can be deeply connected to a student’s career path – best of luck!

    1. Hello and thank you for the kind words!

      The students completed a survey with 5 attitude, 5 anxiety questions and demographic questions. These questions did not use the words “attitude or anxiety” to ensure the results would not be skewed. All survey responses were then ran through various regression models to determine the relationship and predicting variables towards attitude and anxiety. An example of what an attitude question looks like is “Indicate to what extent you agree with this statement: I enjoy math” . The answer selections included 5 responses ranging between Strongly Disagree and Strongly Agree. These were then all paired with a number 1 through 5 to look at attitude towards math. I also looked at the demographic questions to see if any of these variables could predict if a student enjoyed math. These variables included: age, ethnicity, gender, favorite subject, and year of school.

      To gather anxiety results, the answer responses also ranged between Strongly Disagree and Strongly Agree. I used both the students self-rated level of anxiety and a number I developed for them based off their average number response to each survey question. Their self-rated anxiety level was based off the question, “On a scale from 1-10, how often do you use your calculator when solving an algebra problem? ” This was done after I decided that a calculator usage directly correlated with anxiety levels. The demographic questions were also looked at to see if they had any effect on student anxiety but the results showed no prediction.

      The students also completed an Algebra level time test. Students were split into two groups where one group used a calculator and the other did not. After they completed and turned in this time test, both groups answered the same set of questions. These questions focused on their feelings and looked like, “How did you feel during that experience? Describe a word that described your thoughts throughout this experience?, Which group did you want to be in and why?, etc.” I then looked at these responses and broke them into groups of good feelings versus bad feelings. This was then compared to their assigned group (calculator or no calculator) to see the effect the calculator had on a students’ feelings.

  5. Kendall,

    Thank you for the presentation. If you were to have the opportunity to again study anxiety and/or gender in a mathematics classroom in the future, how you would design that study? What new questions would you want to pursue?

    1. Hello Dr. Ozar! It is very good to hear from you.

      If I could do the study again, I would want to change the timed test portion. Originally students all took the same timed test and were randomly assigned to two groups, one used a calculator and one was not permitted. After the students were asked questions of their feelings throughout the experience. I then assessed their completion time, scores and feelings and compared the two groups. To change it, I would want students to redo a similar timed test but in the opposite group. I would have been interested to see if the results would look differently and so students could see both sides. This would have allowed to them to talk about which was better for their anxiety levels and why. I also want to know if I used students outside of Wayne County, if the results would have been the same.

  6. Congratulations on your IS! As a physics educator, I also see a lot of calculator use when students don’t need them (like your example of 2+2). I think it was very interesting that you found that gender has no effect on attitude towards math. Did you look at confidence at all? I find that a lot of girls love math but their confidence is limit.

    Wonderful job!

    1. Thanks for joining in on the session, Vanessa! Also, thank you for the pedagogical wisdom that you dispense on Twitter.

    2. Hello Vanessa, thank for the comment and connecting calculator usage to your psychics classes! I also was surprised by gender having no effect on a students attitude toward math. Two of the questions from the survey involved confidence. The questions are,
      -Indicate to what extent you agree with this statement: “I feel more confident when I know I am able to use a calculator.”
      -Indicate to what extent you agree with this statement: “I use a calculator even when I am able to solve myself”

      These were both used when looking at anxiety but showed similar results as attitude. Gender was not a predictor of anxiety levels. The number of girls did tend to rely on the calculator more than the number of boys but both were high, therefore gender was not able to predict anxiety levels of a student. It would have been interesting to focus more on confidence levels and see if this had any connection!

  7. Congrats, Kendall! Do you know yet where you will be teaching in the fall?

    1. Thank you Dr. Pasteur and yes, I have been offered a teaching position at the Wayne County Career Center in the fall!

  8. Congrats, Ken!! So proud of you, you are going to do amazing things as a teacher!!

    1. Thank you so much Brooke!! Appreciate your comment and our overall experience together at Wooster. 🙂

  9. Congratulations on completing your IS and welcome to the world of teaching! I have continued to use my Wooster skills to do action research during my 31 years in the classroom and hope that you have the opportunity to do so as well.

    I found your results on gender to be very interesting. One thing that I have noticed is that the attitude often varies based on the gender of the teacher. We have two middle schools that feed into our high school, one has male math teachers and the other has female. The reported anxiety in beginning of the year surveys definitely differs between these groups.

    1. Hello Karen. I am very thankful the College of Wooster teaches research skills and I had this opportunity! When doing original research, I also found various articles stating that attitude varied depending on a student’s teacher. I briefly discussed this throughout my IS but agree that it makes a difference! Thank you for sharing your connection within your high school.

  10. Very interesting! I have two daughters going through Wooster High School math classes (one done, and one there now). One of the things that struck me was when they shifted to using the advanced graphing calculators, and how intimidating this was. Did your study take into account the type of calculator being used? If not, do you think that the shift from basic to more advanced calculators would be a useful future educational study?

    1. Hello Kent and thank you for your comment. In the fall, I completed my student teaching at Wooster High School and also noticed the calculator differences from class to class. As the students get older, I feel the graphing calculator can be a great visual tool and can still do everything their basic calculator could do before. But you make an interesting point! All of the students used their choice of calculator when completing the timed test, some had scientific and others used a graphing calculator. During the timed test, all questions were Algebra questions and could have been solved by hand. There was no need to graph anything so the type of calculator did not make a huge difference. If I were to redo the study, I could have asked the students to all use the same one. I appreciate your thoughts!

  11. Congrats Kendall! Interesting study since I’m often more anxious when I don’t have a calculator to check my math!

  12. Hi Ken :))),

    Congrats on your IS!! You worked so hard and you deserve this great weight being lifted off of your shoulders!!

    My question is, was there anything particularly surprising about the results you received from surveying the Wayne County math students?


    1. Rachel, hello!! Thank you for your words and your constant support through it all! I am very lucky to have a friend like you and am thankful Wooster brought me you. 🙂

      To answer your question, the two schools used in the study were very different. One of a small, rural high school with Calculus as the highest math and the other is a very large, more city atmosphere, and well-known high school for their high academics. It was surprising to see such similar responses within such different schools. Students with completely different educational backgrounds all felt and showcased the same results toward anxiety and attitudes towards math.

  13. It was great to see that in your study there were not gender differences in attitudes to math- maybe we are making progress! 🙂 Were all of the highschool students in your study the same grade? There has been some research that differences in gender with trends and staying in math classes from middle school to highschool and through highschool.

    Bringing your research based approach and sharing with future colleagues is a benefit COW students and liberal arts students in general can bring to the field. Congratulations and best wishes for your future.

    1. Hello Lori,
      I am sure your Wooster student was just as thankful for Wooster as I am! I was also happy to see no gender differences in attitudes towards math. The students ranged in grades. Students used ranged between levels of Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Pre Calculus, Calculus 1 and Calculus 2. I felt it was important to use various math students and used both grade level and age as variables to see if they had effect on attitudes or anxieties. I found that grade level was a predictor on students attitude. I think this could be the case because as students get older, they are not required to move on past Algebra 2 by the state of Ohio, so the high grades are the students who typically enjoy math and are choosing to take more math classes.

      I appreciate your kind words and thank you for your time!!

  14. Hey Ken!
    This is a super interesting study and it’s very relatable. I struggle with math and get really nervous when I don’t have a calculator. Congrats on completing IS! I’m super proud of all the hard work you put in!
    Miss you! And Good Luck Ms. Lloyd!

    1. Thank you Addie. I appreciate you constant support and laughs throughout the year. I am glad you connect to the study and hopefully it can help you! Miss you and excited to follow your Wooster career throughout the next 3 years. 🙂

  15. Congrats Ken!! I think this is a very interesting study and I am so proud of you and what you have accomplished. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for you!

    1. Thank you so much for commenting and for being you Kylie 🙂 I am thankful we had the opportunity to become friends this year! Excited to see you grow and to support you throughout your Wooster journey.

  16. Congratulations Kendall – and well done! Glad to see that you’re project could reflect your future aspirations and plans. Please stay in touch, we are so proud of you! -J. Bowen

    1. Dr. Bowen- thank you so much for helping me throughout my time at Wooster and being my advisor throughout it all! I am very glad I had the opportunity to work with you and am excited for you new position next year.

  17. Congrats Kendall! I’m very proud of you and all that you’ve accomplished at Wooster!

    I found your findings on gender and its relationship to math very interesting. I hope you’ll continue to ask questions when you transition to teaching in the fall! Your future students are lucky to have you!

    1. Thank you Coach Rumph! I am very blessed to have played for a coach like you and hope to impact my future students and athletes the same way! Thank you for all you have done for me!

  18. Well done, Kendall. I am very excited for the students that have you as teacher in the coming years. I know you will be wonderful. Congrats on the position at the Career Center. (I saw your reply to Dr. Pasteur’s question.) Keep in touch with us!

    1. Thank you Dr. Ramsay! I appreciate your kind words and am excited for the future!

  19. Congratulations Kendall!!! Since Math is the least of anything I feel comfortable with, I am very impressed by your knowledge and comfort zone – GOOD FOR YOU!!!! I am pleased you chose to present – it shows your confidence in your area of study!!! I am so very proud of you and thrilled you came to Wooster! 🙂 Congratulations on landing a job – that is awesome! Just all around happy for you!

    All the best,

    1. Thank you Sandi! Your family has been in my life for as long as I know and I wouldn’t want it any other way! I appreciate your throughout words and excited to see what the future brings!! Thanks a ton for pulling me to Wooster 🙂

  20. Great job Kendall!!!! So proud of you and your hard work! Can’t wait to see your success in the future! All your students are gonna be so lucky!

    1. Marissa hello!! Thank you for commenting and for being by my side throughout it all. I am so BLESSED Wooster gave me a best friend like you! Excited to see where life takes our friendship, you are the best! 🙂

  21. Hi, Kendall!

    Very nice presentation! Your work is particularly interesting and relevant because the calculator is ubiquitous in classrooms at various education levels. It’s interesting how a tool can cause or be connected to anxiety about math.

    I’m not surprised by your results about the lack of gender-difference in attitudes towards math; much scholarship of teaching and learning regarding undergraduate students suggests the attitudes are similar between females and males. However, resilience and confidence tend to differ and, in some cases, correlate to environmental factors. I’d be interested to see how these may differ for high school students!

    You mention that the learning atmosphere can combat these anxieties and can be supportive. What does that atmosphere look like? Were there specific actions, methods, or tools that made your classrooms more supportive to learning? Did your students know you were intentionally crafting such a learning environment?

    1. Hello and thank you for your comment! I appreciate all the wisdom you share. If I were to do the study again, I would have looked at confidence levels of students to see the effect on this as well. High school students are so fun to work with. I truly believe that you can create a learning atmosphere that combats these anxieties. This atmosphere shows the students you care about their passions and interests outside of a math classroom! This sparks a lightbulb and allows the student to talk about something they care about, but as a teacher it is important to bring this interest up again at a later date. That will show the student you listen and care about them which leads to a factor of respect. This respect can allow you to push the student and they will respond because they know you want the best for them. If a student trusts you, they will feel more open to asking questions when things seem unclear and mistakes are not feared but apart of the process. At the time of sharing their interests, they do not know I am intentionally crafting this safe space and comfortable learning environment. Being a real person with your students is all they want to see and I plan to do this for my future students! Thank you!

      1. Thanks, Kendall!

        I’d be interested to read your teaching philosophy! It sounds like your classrooms are incredibly student-centered. Fantastic work! Your future institutions will be so lucky to have you. Best of luck!

  22. I think it’s so cool how you combined your math/education interests in this project. And I’m so glad we’re going to have another awesome female math teacher in this world!

    1. Thank you Maya! Congrats on all of your accomplishments at Wooster as well!

  23. This is a very interesting study. I know most of my time in school, I heavily relied on my calculator. Congratulations Kendall!! Wishing you nothing but the best in the future!

    1. Thank you Coach Paige Summers 🙂 I am glad to see this related to you as a student! I am hoping to help other students like you in the future! Excited for the future and glad you have been in my life for so long.

  24. Hello Miss Lloyd! Congratulations from Sammy (Wooster High School) and Upi. It was such a great experience for Sammy to have you in her math class. You’ve done such a great job academically and professionally! Best of luck!

    1. Thank you both so much! I always looked forward to seeing Sammy’s bright and smiling face in second period 🙂 She has such a bright future ahead of her and I am excited to help so many students like her in my future!

  25. Kendall, I love how your IS connects to your career aspirations. I also think it’s very neat that you were able to draw survey responses from the education system that you graduated from! Amazing job. I look forward to seeing where your hard work and thoughtful approaches take you 🙂

    1. Thank you Hallie- I appreciate your comment and your kind words. I am excited to see where your future takes you as well! 🙂

  26. Kendall,

    Very interesting study coupled with some very compelling findings. Thanks for sharing and for your commitment to carry the torch of that discovered forward. As Covey shares, “to learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know.” Wishing you the very best as your journey continues – proud of you!

    1. Thank you so much Coach Beckett! I appreciate all you have to share, excited for the future!

  27. Awesome job, Kendall! Your results are definitely going to help you understand your future students- I have no doubt that you’re going to be an absolutely amazing teacher!

  28. Thank you for sharing your research and for going into math education.

  29. Great job, Kendall! I loved seeing how this evolved from our project during student teaching to your IS! You’re going to be an amazing teacher. Congratulations!

  30. Very important research! Understanding anxiety toward mathematics will be so beneficial to your future students. I’m sure there are many who wish they had a teacher like you. Good luck to you Kendall. You are off to a great start!

  31. Thank you for sharing your work, Kendall. This is really interesting. It makes me think about how this could relate to other classes that are rely on mathematics.
    Congratulation and best wishes!

  32. Great job, Ken!! You’re going to do amazing things, can’t wait to see them all!

  33. Hi Kendall,

    I really enjoyed listening to your project! I have a few questions that maybe you can answer for me!

    First off, do you think that your findings related to gender are consistent throughout all different levels and types of math? In other words, while there may not be a gap between female and male performance in math at introductory levels, do you believe that a gap may form over time as the content becomes more challenging?

    Second, do you believe that if students were never once given the opportunity to use calculators that they would still be as anxious without them? Or does their anxiety from not using one stem from the dependence they once had on them?

    Amazing work!

  34. Great work, Kendall!
    It was great to work with you in Global Xty course. I wish you the best as you are beginning the next chapter of your life journey!

  35. Hi Ken!

    Your topic was so fascinating and you are so smart!! You have such a bright future ahead of you and I can’t wait to see where life takes you. Miss you girl!

  36. Great work, Kendall! Good luck with teaching at the Wayne County Career Center!

  37. Hello! I’m a Junior at Parish Episcopal School. This is such an interesting project! I had subconsciously noticed this in math classes—that I liked it better when I was able to use a calculator—and am glad that you did the research to find that, in fact, this is the case for others as well. I really enjoy math and will be taking Calculus BC next year. We’re learning derivatives right now 😀

  38. Hi Kendall!
    I’m so glad to know another fellow female math teacher, that in itself will go a long way to give girls in your classes confidence. The calculator issue had existed since I began teaching in the early 1990’s. I realize that the more you can give your students the opportunity to practice basic skills say in the warm up or close of your lessons, you can build that confidence from using calculators to do basic math. As for higher level math, I always found it more powerful to teach students how to do the math first. Once the graphing calc was introduced to do the same problems, they were amazed at how fast the results were made. However, instead of allowing calcs to continue to do the basic work, instead I only used the calcs to ask them higher level analysis and prediction type questions. Here’s one example, data fitting: Collect the data, plot on the scatterplot, estimate the best fit line and write the equation, then answer a few visual estimation questions by hand using the model. Then, introduce the graphing calc to input the same data and let the calc make the best fit line and equation – see how close they were to the calc equation, then use the y= equation to make prediction well into the future, or search for the time a certain amount was reached. You can also use the graphing calc to do boolean tests and several other tests of whether the written work is correct. Have fun experimenting! Good luck, and I am happy to pass the torch on!

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