Math anxiety is more than just being nervous about math. It is characterized by feelings of panic, tension, and helplessness aroused by doing math or even just thinking about it (Ashcraft & Kirk, 2001). Researchers think that about 20 percent of the population suffers from it. But having mathematical anxiety does not mean that a student is not good at math. Even accomplished mathematicians, such as Laurent Schwartz and Maryam Mirzakhani, reported having suffered from it. Math anxiety is not the result of doing poorly in mathematics; rather, a student may do poorly in mathematics because they feel anxious about it.

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Making math and literacy instruction accessible to MLLs/ELLs is always a complex, challenging, yet rewarding endeavor. This is particularly the case during a pandemic, where we must present language virtually, over the phone, and within take-home packets for students and their families. These extraordinary circumstances provide opportunities to reflect on how we may design responsive, practical, and sustainable ways to support MLLs/ELLs remotely.

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Planning for remote learning may require more flexibility than does planning lessons for our classrooms. Students are engaging in mathematics outside of school, where support may vary. In addition, access to materials, including technology, will vary from student to student. Interdisciplinary lessons are one way to address a variety of situations and needs during remote learning, and also present an opportunity that is enhanced by remote learning.

As you refine and reflect on remote learning, we encourage you and the teachers you work with to consider students’ mathematical identities and the potential impacts and opportunities related to them. Students’ mathematical identities drive how they engage with mathematics and how they interpret their mathematical experiences. In addition to one’s belief about their ability to do (or not to be able to do) mathematics, it also includes ideas such as which people (genders, races, etc.) are expected to do well at mathematics, and what kinds of behaviors (for example, speed) are valued when doing mathematics.

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When an early elementary student can recite all of the single-digit multiplication facts, a typical response is, “Wow, that kid is really good at math!” I was that student. I could finish the two-minute multiplication fact exercises with time to spare, and I could recite formulas within hours of seeing them the first time. I could also (almost) flawlessly reproduce any algorithm our teacher showed us in class that day. It was in college that I learned that memorizing all these facts, formulas, definitions, algorithms, and more is not all that is involved in mathematics. It was a hard lesson. I realized that even though I was good at memorization, I had to do more than that to do the mathematics I was now facing. Even then, memorization and recall of information played a huge role.