The subject of mathematics, some love it, others, well let us just say it was not one of their fondest memories of school. We hear it all of the time. “I didn’t like math when I was in school.” or “I’m not a math person.” The notion that an educational subject is something that you can either do or not do has fixed the mindset of many teachers, parents and students over the years.
Jo Boaler, the author of Mathematical Mindsets, states, “When students get the idea they cannot do math, they often maintain a negative relationship with mathematics throughout the rest of their lives.”
However, new evidence of brain research tells us that everyone, with the right teaching and messages, can be successful in math. Therefore, no one is born knowing math, and no one is born lacking the ability to learn math. We as educators are working to create opportunities for this teaching and these messages in order for students to become flexible thinkers that persevere and rise to meet many challenges. This is all in an effort to create a growth mindset.
Fortunately, Ohio’s Learning standards have provided teachers with a set of practices to help them foster this growth mindset. The Standards for Mathematical Practice describe levels of mathematical know-how that teachers seek to develop in their students. These practices include such things as; making sense of problems and persevere in solving them, construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others and attending to precision. Jo Boaler states that students need to have opportunities to struggle to solve a problem, to listen to each other as different students offer ideas for solving, even making mistakes and taking wrong turns are all crucial.
“The students combine their own thoughts and ideas with methods they know to solve a problem of the type they will face in the world.”
Let us look at this through the 2018 Winter Olympics. We have all watched as exceptional athletes from all over the world have gathered in PyeonChang, South Korea to fulfill a lifelong dream of standing at the top of the podium with a medal draped from their neck. The road to the Olympics is no easy task. These athletes did not wake up six months ago and decide they were going to be snowboarders, ice skaters, or skiers. They have been training years to make this dream a reality.
Have they failed along the way? Absolutely. Have they encountered challenges that seemed too large to surpass? For many, yes. So what do Olympians, and mathematics have in common you ask? The answers, a growth mindset, or the understanding that your brain can grow, adapt and change; and a standard of practices that build them up for success. No matter if, you are retraining your body to glide down a snow-covered hill on skies after breaking your leg, or you are solving a math problem that challenges you to apply multiple mathematical skills in order to solve, the statement of “I can’t” becomes a statement of “I will persevere.” This growth mindset is one that a student can apply now and for the rest of their life, in math and beyond!