Mathematical Mindsets – Introduction and Foreward

The forward for Mathematical Mindsets:  Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching by Jo Boaler was written by Carol Dweck, who wrote the book – Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success.  Dweck explains how a fourth grade class in the South Bronx – a class of underserved and minority students whose past performance in math was abysmal – became the number one fourth grade class in New York, 100% of the students passed the state math test, and 90% of those students earned top scores.  All of this occurred after only one year.  She credits this to the teacher’s mindset about students and math.

As I’ve stated before, I don’t enjoy math.  I was good at it in school, but it wasn’t fun for me.  There were several boys in my class who just “got it,” but I always had to work every step of every problem exactly the way I was shown by the teacher.  I didn’t intuitively get what I was doing or even understand why I was doing it or how to apply it.  This led me to believe that I wasn’t good at math – which is what some teachers may actually tell students.  I have never heard this personally from any teacher, but I have heard from others that some people are just good at math and others aren’t.  This leads to the fixed mindset that an innate, fixed ability trumps hard work, dedication, and learning.

Essentially, the book’s premise is determining what we can do to make math learning happen for all students.  Boaler hopes to help teachers and children believe that their math ability can be developed, and she hopes to show teachers how to teach math in a way that brings this learning to life.

In the Introduction, Boaler writes about the general power of mindset:  mindsets lead to different learning behaviors which create different learning outcomes.  This fits well with what we teach in EDUC 1300 – in many cases, it is not about acquiring new knowledge; it’s more about acquiring new behaviors.

One of the most powerful ideas in this introduction is that changing the messages that students receive isn’t as easy as changing the words that we use.  Students receive many indirect messages through the teaching of math such as the questions that are worked in class, the feedback that is received, the ways the students and problems are grouped, and many others.  Boaler didn’t go into details here, so I’m hoping that she explains more about this topic in later chapters because I can see how this would apply across many disciplines and not just in math.

Another key takeaway is that part of the change that is needed in math is teaching students that math isn’t just about right or wrong answers; it’s teaching students to see the creative and interpretative nature of mathematics.  I believe that this was part of my issue as a child.  I love the grey – the not having a black and white, right or wrong answer – of literature and the creative aspect.  For me, math was simply about getting the right answer because there always was a right answer and a right way of getting it.  If I had been exposed to the creative and interpretive nature of mathematics, I may have learned to love it.

What are your thoughts about Dweck and Boaler’s ideas so far?

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