Afterschool Focus: How Every 21st CCLC Instructor Can Offer Math Enrichment

As schools and 21st CCLC programs have transitioned to in-person learning, educators across the country are assessing student learning needs, including areas such as mathematics and English language arts. When he announced the U.S. Department of Education’s focus on summer learning to help students impacted by the pandemic, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona stressed that reopening and learning recovery activities should focus on re-engaging students in a community of learners and not “skill and drill.”1

Fostering mathematics learning through collaborative, hands-on projects with real-world connections instead of “skill and drill” is an area where 21st CCLC programs can shine. But doing so means that our entire 21st CCLC team shares the responsibility of integrating math into our activities in meaningful ways. Everything from cooking and gardening to fitness and sewing has mathematical connections; however, afterschool instructors may not see themselves as the people who provide math enrichment. As afterschool leaders, we have the opportunity to support instructors in changing their mindsets about math and help all afterschool staff to feel confident making real-world math connections during enrichment activities. In this issue of Illinois Quality Afterschool Quarterly, we explore ways adults and students can feel more positive and confident connecting math to life through everyday activities. 

Fostering a Positive Attitude About Math Among Adults and Youth

Instructors’ negative perceptions about their abilities to understand, let alone teach, math can impact their willingness to embrace and connect math to an enrichment activity. In more extreme cases, these negative perceptions can manifest as math anxiety, where a person feels nervous or anxious when faced with math situations. One study found that 93% of Americans reported having experienced some level of math anxiety, and evidence suggests that anxiety is more of a factor in math than other subjects.2

Research shows that educators can unintentionally pass math anxiety on to students. When a student develops a negative perception of his or her innate ability to learn mathematical concepts, that person may opt out of more challenging math classes and ultimately careers that use math. These experiences, perceptions, and choices can contribute to the underrepresentation of women and some ethnic groups in these fields. Fortunately, adults can change self-perceptions and also foster a more positive mindset among students. 

Believe and communicate that we can all learn math. Avoid perceptions that only some people are good at math. These perceptions can foster stereotypes about who is good at math and discourage girls and students of color from developing an interest in math. Moreover, assumptions about innate talent can promote math anxiety.3 To help students see math as a skill that anyone can learn, educators can remain aware of how they talk about math and avoid disparaging their math skills.4

The struggle is real (and essential). When working with students, express confidence in their ability to overcome challenges and offer strategies and guiding questions to help them solve the problem. Afterschool staff can also facilitate meaningful discussions with and among students as they work through mathematical concepts. Student experiences expressing and considering mathematical explanations send the message that all students can solve mathematical problems.5

If a student is struggling, offer support by saying something like, “Yes, this is challenging, but I am confident that you can work through it if you stick with it.” As students make progress, praise them for their perseverance and for working through a problem.6 By emphasizing the problem-solving process instead of correct answers and computational speed, you can help students lower anxiety and negative perceptions.7

Celebrate mistakes. When students explore different ways to solve a problem and talk through strategies, they cultivate a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. Learning from mistakes also helps students develop a growth mindset, believing in their ability to persevere and solve a problem. Afterschool instructors can also celebrate mistakes. Showing students that we can make mistakes and correct them models the idea of being a life-long learner.   

Provide opportunities for staff to explore and practice. Before you build student confidence, you may need to develop the confidence of your team. Provide opportunities for staff to practice math activities before they lead them. For example, you might ask staff to play the math game Guess My Rule to identify patterns or play KenKen puzzles. Staff can learn through observation, like this video on testing predictions or this video on using charts and maps to find a treasure.8

Math is part of our everyday lives. As afterschool professionals, we have the opportunity to help staff and students work past anxiety and self-doubt to find fun in math. 


Ashcraft, M. H. (2002). Math anxiety: Personal, educational, and cognitive consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(5), 181–184. Retrieved from 

Blazer C. (2011, Sep). Strategies for reducing math anxiety. Information Capsule Research Services, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, 1102. Retrieved from: 

Click2Science. (2018, Dec 12). Focusing on the “M” in STEM [webinar recording]. Author. 

Jacobson, L. (2021, Mar 24). Cardona summit shines light on districts with successful reopening stories and ‘real-world evidence’ of following CDC guidelines. The 74. Retrieved from 

Lewis, K. (2018, Jan 2). Stopping the spread of math anxiety: Three messaging strategies for elementary school teachers. REL Northwest Blog. Retrieved from 

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2018). Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics: Initiating Critical Conversations. Author. 

Ujifusa, A. (2021, Mar 24). EdWeek Q&A: Miguel Cardona talks summer learning, mental health, and state tests. EducationWeek. Retrieved from


1 Ujifusa, 2021; Jacobson, 2021.

2 Blazer, 2011.

3 Ashcraft, 2002.

4 Lewis, 2018.

5 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2018.

6 Lewis, 2018.

7 Blazer, 2011.

8 Click2Science, 2018.