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Children in math classes in Naperville have long been plagued with boring memorization of procedures and math facts. Procedures and math facts certainly help some people derive the answer to a simple arithmetic problem, but they aren’t much fun.
What’s worse, students and some educators get too focused on getting the correct answer to math drills. They forget that math can be a creative and joyous pursuit. Practicing arithmetic procedures should be like sports drills. They are helpful in isolating certain skills, but not a substitute for playing the game. Imagine if a basketball team only did passing drills and never played an actual game. Kids and coaches would get bored and think basketball is boring. This tragedy is happening throughout classrooms and the result is kids thinking that math is boring.
The Common Core Math Standards address some of the problems of focusing on procedures instead of reasoning. (Methods) But they don’t do enough.
Your Mindset Matters
Carol Dweck, a research psychologist at Stanford University wrote a book about the importance of mindset called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and it is revolutionizing the way people think about learning. A fixed mindset is when people believe ability or talent is unchangeable – someone is either good with numbers, or not good with numbers. A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence is influenced by exercising our brain.
Brain and cognition scientists have proven that our brains, like our muscles, physically change with use. Scientists call this phenomenon brain plasticity. http://bigthink.com/think-tank/brain-exercise But some people have been slow to accept the mountains of research indicating brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. Dweck’s research shows that people with a growth mindset, that is people who know intelligence, talent, ability is flexible outperform people with a fixed mindset in many arenas.
Carol Dweck stated “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
To hear Professor Dweck describe her inspiring results watch her on this TED talk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_X0mgOOSpLU
The Growth Mindset and Math
Jo Boaler, a well-respected math educator explains in her book, Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages, and Innovative Teaching describes how historically math instruction in the United States has been especially plagued by a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset, even by math instructors. Math instructors with a fixed mindset are more likely to let learning deficits fester. Instead of valuing right answers, they value effort, process, work, and even mistakes. When people work harder, they get smarter. In fact, their brain grows!
Imagine the following scenario in a fixed mindset classroom:
Mason is in the fourth grade and has been struggling to learn long division. He keeps forgetting the process and getting the wrong answer. His teacher gives him extra practice division problems to do at home. Mason does them, but hates every minute of it. The day of the test comes and Mason gets a D on the math test. Mason slumps and thinks “I am no good at math” and his confidence takes a hit. The class moves on to learning fractions.
Now imagine this scenario in a growth mindset classroom:
Brinley is also in the fourth grade and has also been struggling to learn long division. She keeps forgetting the process and getting the wrong answer. Her teacher takes a different approach and gives her the challenge to come up with her own method of solving a division problem with multiple digits. Intrigued with the possibility, Brinley works diligently to find an alternative method. She uses creativity and mathematical reasoning. At the time of the math test, Brinley is still struggling. Her math test comes back with the note “let’s keep trying new ways- you don’t quite have it yet.” Brinley does keep working and experimenting and finally creates a method similar to the one depicted here created by two fifth graders. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qvgsfKzA1Y . Her confidence soars.
How we should Approach Math Instruction
Jo Boaler says math should include lots of creative challenges. When math students are allowed to think about math creatively, it not only increases their interest, it also increases their reasoning skills. Students involved in exploring and discussing math on a deep level grow their brain and increase their confidence. Boaler also has a site, https://www.youcubed.org/tasks/, with great activities for group settings, like a classroom or summer camp.
The Good News about Mindset
Don’t fret if you, your child, or your child’s teacher has not yet fully embraced a growth mindset. It is a process. The first step is to acknowledge where you are in the process. When math teachers see the dramatic improvements and achievements of children in a growth mindset setting, they begin to adopt some of the growth mindset principles. Amazing successes are possible with this paradigm shift. Classrooms plagued by learning deficits have risen to the top of their state in math scores.
At Mathnasium of Naperville, we are on our own growth mindset journey.
Come join us as we take students farther than they ever thought possible. We tackle math concepts in depth. Hearing anyone say math is “boring” breaks our hearts. Teaching new skills is great, but hearing kids rave about math is even better. Don’t believe us? Check out some of our reviews. Call (630) 219-0505 to learn more about math and your child’s path today. Ask for Aparna Pai.
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