Some apprentices need support to build math confidence, especially at the beginning of technical training. Students entering trades training might have weak math skills and feel anxious about the math component of technical training. They may have dropped math courses early in their secondary school education or it may be a long time since they were in school. They worry that they have forgotten basic math skills or may not be able to keep up the pace in class. They think they can’t do math, but everyone can learn math despite any stereotypes or past experiences.
Remind apprentices that their motivation in technical training is completely different than it was in high school: they are here to learn so they can do their job better and earn more money. Learning math skills should be viewed as a human endeavor just like learning the practical parts of learning a trade. Sometimes a tutor is required to work one-on-one with the apprentice. A tutor or instructor working one-on-one with an apprentice can also teach positive self-talk, like “I can do this.”
Some apprentices enter trades training with weak math foundations such as multiplication tables. Using the calculator to perform those functions, without any stigma, allows them to focus on the more complex operations instead. Instructors should demonstrate useful calculator functions so apprentices have a tool to simplify math operations. Low-level learners tend to write down every digit from their calculator at every step. Copying numbers from the calculator to paper and then entering them into the calculator again increases the probability of error, so "Store" and "Recall" functions are especially useful.
Use workplace documents, tools of the trade, structures and equipment in the shop to make math “real” and show how it is applied. Apprentices understand why it is important to learn the skills and how they will use them on the job.
Practicing a math skill builds confidence. Worksheets should have examples to follow and refer to during practice. Practice questions should start out easier and increase in complexity. Detailed answer keys should be included so apprentices can see they are performing the right calculations along the way. If they get the wrong answer, they can retrace their steps and identify where and why they made an error and correct themselves.
An instructor can help an apprentice build self-confidence by pointing out new skills learned and improvement of a skill. Reviewing results soon after a test allows apprentices to see what they mastered and what they should review. A sincere positive word after class will resonate with struggling learners for a long time.
Instructors can do a lot to help learners overcome math anxiety in technical training. Often these apprentices excel in other aspects of training and only need a little extra assistance and encouragement to also do well in math.