Developing a positive math mindset
| May 23, 2016
As a former high school math teacher, I often ask myself why math has such a bad reputation in our society. For years I have found people either really enjoyed math — likely because they "got it" in school — or they just plain hated it.
I tend to find people with the negative opinion more than the positive one. We hear it from adults all the time: "I wasn't good at math in school" or "I never liked math."
Why is it that way? Our schools have great math teachers — educators who love what they do and ones are committed to helping students improve their math skills and advance their math knowledge.
The problem, I believe, lies with the approach that most math teachers take today.
For the sake of our students and the stability of our future economy, math instruction needs to change. According to this infographic from Getting Smart, 8 of the top 10 jobs require math, tech or science skills, yet in 2013 only 44 percent of graduates were ready for college-level math.
An astounding 76 percent of students believe math is difficult. This data comes from research conducted by Cengage Learning on the current state of math and math instruction.
Last month, Getting Smart blogger Rohit Agarwal wrote, "With Math I Can" — Changing our mindsets about math. Agarwal, the general manager of Amazon K-12 Education, talked about how the With Math I Can initiative is asking students, teachers and parents to take a pledge to achieve a growth mindset in mathematics by promising three things:
- We will celebrate our mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow.
- We will be confident and share our thinking.
- We will persevere through difficult practice.
"We are collaborating with leading education organizations ... to challenge the nation's more than 3 million teachers, their students and parents to take a pledge," Agarwal said of the initiative. "The pledge is to replace saying, 'I'm not good at math' with growth mindset positive statements like, 'I am working to get better at math' or 'I will learn from my mistakes.'"
A number of math teachers are innovating in the field of math instruction, and they regularly share their work with the world. Dan Meyer, a former California teacher and current chief academic officer at Desmos, has made a name for himself reinventing his math classroom for students who, as he described, "didn't like high school math."
In a famous TED Talk, Meyer talked about how math class needs a makeover. Meyer does not use a traditional math textbook, but rather develops his own math explorations with technology, inquiry tasks and performance assessments. He regularly writes on this topic on his blog.
Katrina Schwartz of Mind/Shift recently wrote about Desmos, asking the question: "Could this digital math tool change instruction for the better?" The Desmos tool allows teachers to develop slides with interactive elements that promote "students creating hypotheses, testing their thinking, critiquing each other's work, and discussing how and why math laws work."
Meyer and his Desmos tool have inspired a new generation of math teachers who are reinventing their math classrooms. These innovators include Dan Anderson, an Upstate New York teacher, who creates and posts hundreds of problems on his blog.
Rhode Island teacher Jason Appel, a Fuse Fellow at the Highlander Institute, has developed an elaborate set of math playlists for his classroom — self-paced and self-directed blended learning activities that students can move through at their own pace. This allows Appel to provide students with personalized instruction as they move through their learning.
With all the innovation happening in the math classroom today, I am slightly jealous I left the classroom 10 years ago to become a school administrator. With the power of technology, math teachers have the opportunity to use a positive math mindset to help students come to love and appreciate math.
Perhaps one day soon we will finally change the public perception of math for the good!
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