Proposal for Improving Mathematics Performance


We propose a project to provide teachers with a strategy to reduce math and science performance disparities in students from under-represented populations and to provide more opportunities for them to enter STEM fields by applying a hybrid cognitive-psycho-physiological intervention in the classroom which has been shown to raise student math performance.  Current knowledge generally focuses on teacher professional development, school outreach, curriculum development, cooperative learning, non-traditional curricular materials, mentoring, and guidance counseling.  These methods originate from research projects such as: The Teaching Integrated Mathematics and Science (TIMS), College Preparatory Mathematics Program 1990 (CPMP), Chicago IMP and SCALE.   The Center for Research of Innovative Technologies for Learning (RITL) among others has recognized the importance of affective considerations in learning.   An unmet need exists to provide effective strategies to reduce affective and cognitive barriers to improving performance in mathematics and science, which are obstacles to STEM careers, for under-represented students.  The following studies provide objective evidence of the need:  In a 2005 study of 980 tenth-grade students conducted by the Institute of HeartMath, 61% reported being negatively affected by test anxiety; twice as many females experienced high levels of test anxiety as males, and there was a strong negative relationship between test anxiety and test performance.  Betz [1978] found that higher anxiety correlates with lower achievement.  Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2003 Technical Report indicate that US mathematics achievement is below average.  Continued existence of this need is an important problem because “As groups under-represented in the STEM workforce become an increasingly larger part of the U.S. population, the vitality of the STEM workforce may further decline unless action is taken to broaden participation of all parts of our society.” [Broadening Participation Through a Comprehensive, Integrated System, an NSF sponsored Workshop Final Report, 2005].  Although significant research has been done to date, the affective dimensions and their interdependence on the psychophysiology of performance of students have not been addressed in a comprehensive and systematic manner.


Our Long-Term Goal is to design a strategy for improving performance in mathematics and science by reducing math and test anxiety and increasing memory and cognitive performance that can be replicated in K-16 classrooms on a large scale.  However, the objective of this application is to integrate cognitive-psycho-physiological strategies, which include Freeze-Frame developed by the Institute of HeartMath (IHM) into teachers’ classroom instruction.  The rationale for this proposal is that increased cognitive functioning and knowledge acquisition will lead to improved math and science performance among student participants and thereby, increase and diversify the pool of academically-prepared candidates available to pursue stem careers.  We are very well prepared to undertake the proposed research because in addition to pilot studies in conducted in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, we have the following physical and intellectual resources:  Collaboration with University of Cincinnati and the Institute of HeartMath researchers, implementation of Freeze-Frame® as a distinguishing technology, application of Freeze-Framer® Heart Rate Variability (HRV) biofeedback monitoring system and sensors as distinguishing equipment, and investigation of complementary research.


Our plan is to accomplish the overall objective of this research by pursuing the following three specific aims:

1.      Conduct workshops in which we present to public school teachers the science (including HeartMath) and evidence that supports the intervention and train them how to apply it in their classrooms.

Participants will acquire knowledge about the science and gain practical experience of the diminishing effect of stress/anxiety on performance through practical exercises; and learn the cognitive-psycho-physiological intervention strategies using Heart Rate Variability (HRV) biofeedback monitoring to identify the desired physiological coherence state. 

2.      Work with teachers to create an action plan for integrating the cognitive-psycho-physiological intervention strategies into the classroom, which includes setting up the Heart Rate Variability (HRV) biofeedback monitoring stations in the classroom and training students.

Workshop leaders will help teachers prepare an action plan including: time lines, resources needed, constraints, the curriculum structure to be employed, assessment procedures, sequencing, pilot prototype of lesson strategies, materials, tests and etc.

3.      Design a continuous improvement model and set up a regular onsite visitation schedule.

We will visit the sites to consult with teachers on a regular basis, collect data, and make modifications suggested by the continuous improvement process.


This hybrid cognitive-psycho-physiological approach is creative and original.  This approach will advance the field by introducing an empowering, two-prong synergistic strategy to 1) reduce math and test anxiety, and 2) increase memory and cognitive performance.  This very powerful synergism activates very efficient learning processes, such as implicit learning (learning without awareness).  The result is comprehensive and empowering, since in addition to enhanced academic performance, students can expect improvements in quality of their life at home, work, school, and in sports and social situations.  This approach is robust and very effective because there is no need for teachers to change their teaching style.  The process becomes a natural part of the individual teachers’ instruction and pays dividends in many other situations.  With respect to expected outcomes, strong commitment and motivation by the teachers and students generates the momentum to learn and apply the process, while the continuous improvement monitoring creates a pathway by which teachers and students consciously generate a cognitive-psycho-physiological state that is optimal for explicit and implicit learning.  Collectively, these results lead to increase student’s abilities to learn implicitly and improve their mathematics and science performance.   The resulting research in this very replicable model will have a positive impact by increasing the pool of academically prepared under-represented students who will pursue careers in the STEM fields.


Michael Vislocky, PhD