This chapter is entitled The Brain and Mathematics Learning and much of it was a review for me since it told how the brain works and we teach that in EDUC 1300. However, there were a few surprising items that I would like to share with you.
1 – In this chapter, Boaler told a story about a nine-year-old girl named Cameron who had half of her brain removed by a doctor because she was having seizures. Eventually, due to brain plasticity, the half of the brain that she had left replaced the functions that were lost when the other half was removed. I had heard of this before as we have shown the video Brain Plasticity: The Story of Jody in EDUC in past semesters. The surprising part for me was that it didn’t occur to me that this could ever happen more than once. I always assumed that there was only one person like Jody. I suppose I had a fixed mindset that the occurrence I knew about was the only occurrence to ever take place.
2 – Another key item was when Boaler stated that for 95% of children, any level of school maths are within reach. While I know this is true because of growth mindset, it’s not what I’ve always heard: gifted and AP students do certain maths and everyone else does lower level maths. Or now, it’s more about career choice deciding which math classes one takes.
3 – Apparently brains are all different (this was no surprise), but whatever someone is born with isn’t nearly as important as the “experiences” they have. I know that this is true when students first begin school; those who live in more affluent areas or those with higher socio-economic statuses often enter school more advanced than other students because they have been exposed to a greater number of things or experiences. This is one of the pushes for Head Start and other early interventions. However, I never related these experiences to anything other than social and cultural experiences even though I teach my students that “experiences” are what creates learning. In fact, most “geniuses” often credit their successes not to their intelligence but to the number of mistakes they made and how hard they tried. This fits in well with Duckworth’s theory on grit which is strongly linked to mindset. The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t are not their brains but their approach to life, the messages they receive about their potential, and the opportunities they have to learn.
4 – This chapter had other interesting facts about the link between fields which value giftedness and the number of female PhDs in that field, college professors’ ideas about giftedness, and the type of praise one should give to promote a growth mindset, but I don’t want to summarize the whole chapter for you. Instead, I’ll just leave you with one key idea that gave me an AHA! moment:
When I had developmental psychology, I learned that the brain develops in different stages and that the ability to do abstract thinking doesn’t develop until the teen years, and in some cases, it may never develops. I have believed this to be true and have always thought and been told that this is why some students can’t do algebra. In fact, I have even used this bit of information to explain to parents why their children can’t do some abstract tasks. According to Boaler, this is an outdated idea. If one works hard and tries and receives the right kind of experiences and praise, one can do anything one sets his or her mind to do.
What are your thoughts about this? Were you under the same false assumption and outdated information as I, or does Boaler have incorrect information?