How’s Your Math Mindset?

Are you one of those folks who is “bad” at math? And are you convinced there’s no way, ever, that will change? Read on, my friends!

Today’s post is a guest contribution by Dedra Downing. Dedra and I connected through the Innovative Teaching Academy, and I’m happy to welcome her to the blog! You can see her bio below her post. Enjoy!

How’s Your Math Mindset?

By Dedra Downing


I had the opportunity a few years ago to hear Jo Boaler speak at a District Presentation. At the time the district was learning more about math talks, and looking at how we teach math. Since that time I have changed some of my practices to include more math talks, eliminate timed tests, and approach math problems with students demonstrating multiple ways of thinking.

This summer I had an opportunity to read Jo Boaler’s new book,  Mathematical Mindsets, Unleashing Students; Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, as well as take the Mathematical Mindset On-line course through youcubed at Stanford University. I am really finding the book and coursework challenging how I think about math teaching. Teaching math the old way of straight calculation is just not assisting my young students to be true problem solvers. Students who are quick to calculate stand out in our classrooms but math isn’t about being fast. I am more concerned about inspiring students to face challenges, persevere, work collaboratively, and find multiple ways to solve problems. I think one of the most inspiring things I read in Jo Boaler’s book was . . .

“I am a strong supporter of teachers, and I know that the No Child Left Behind era stripped the professionalism and enthusiasm of many teachers as they were forced (and I choose that word carefully) to use teaching methods that they knew to be unhelpful. An important part of my work with teachers now is to help them regain their sense of professionalism”  Jo Boaler

I appreciated this statement as well as her resources, books, and online coursework.

The on-line course had a wonderful interview with Carol Dweck, a pioneering researcher from Stanford on Growth Mindset. They talked about the research that especially shows a fixed mindset around mathematics and how many parents and teachers can send messages to students that perpetuate the feeling that math is a gift you either have or don’t have.  The online course can be done slowly with many videos and time to give and get feedback from peers.

The book has been wonderful, filled with research and examples. It talks about the struggle of mistakes and the fact that your brain will recognize a mistake even if you are not aware. The brain shows more activity and more synapses.  She talks about math tasks that meet learners at all levels eliminating the need to track students. She guides teachers to look at assessments and feedback carefully. She has made math seem beautiful and filled with possibilities of adventure and discovery.  The youcube webpage also has activities available to teachers to use and her ongoing research that she continues to do in the area of teaching math.

But don’t just take my word for it . . . listen to Jo Boaler in this Ted Talk

Dee DownDedra Downing is a 24 year veteran teacher in California. She has taught primary grades. She has a Bachelors in Child Development and Masters in Educational Administration. She enjoys playing her harp, crocheting, and creating lessons that inspire her students to grow.


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