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News from Mathnasium of Littleton

Mindset Encouraging Mathematical Reasoning and Creativity

Feb 23, 2016

A Cool Reason to do Fun Math Activities

Children in math classes in Colorado 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, many students (and some educators) are so bogged down in getting the correct answer to math practice, they forget that math can be a creative and joyous pursuit.  Practicing arithmetic procedures should be like sports drills - helpful in isolating certain skills, but not a substitute for playing the game. The new Common Core Math Standards address some of the problems of focusing on procedures instead of reasoning. For more information on Common Core read our article explaining it Until education fully embraces mindset, however, the standards 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.  Unfortunately, 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.

If parents want to give their children a gift, the best

thing they can do is to teach their 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. – Carol Dweck

To hear Professor Dweck describe her inspiring results watch her on this TED talk,

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 - 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. 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. Our article, http://www-mathnasium-com-littleton-news-6-ways-for-accelerated-and-advanced-math-students-to-get-excited-about-math-again gives some great ways to find fun and creative math activities. Although the article is targeted towards accelerated math students, the strategies described will help any type of math student get excited and engaged about math. Boaler also has a site,, with excellent activities for group settings, like a classroom or summer camp. An excellent poster what the "norms" in math can look like can be found and downloaded here.

The Good News About Mindset

Don’t fret if you, your child, or your child’s teacher have not yet fully embraced a growth mindset. It is a process and the first step is to acknowledge where you are in the process. When math teachers are shown the dramatic results of children who are taught using a growth mindset, amazing things happen. Classrooms plagued by learning deficits have risen to the top of their state in math scores.

At Mathnasium of Littleton we are on our own growth mindset journey. Join us as we take students farther than they ever thought possible and raise their confidence not only in math but across the board! 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 and what some of our students say about us!

Call (303) 979-9077 to learn more about math and your child’s path today. Ask for Suzie.

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