So I'm one of those who grew up mildly to mostly uncomfortable with math. As a high school student. I excelled at linguistics, and intellectual though processes. But math just didn't add up (haha) I loved the proofs of geometry. The built in meta-cognition worked for me. But algebra? in the traditional manner of do all the odd (or even) problems, show all your work, one right answer? Not so much. Sound familiar?
Now that I'm a part time field supervisor, coaching student teachers in all content areas, I've been brushing up on content specific methods and strategies. Enter Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler. This book has been life-changing. And it aligns with the design thinking work I've been doing the last couple of years. Whether you're a math teacher or not, this book is for you. Boaler provides excellent examples of how to create a collaborative classroom where students learn that there really is no such thing as a mistake. Instead, they are encouraged to share and debate ideas based on the familiar, claim, evidence, reasoning technique we see in science and language arts. Armed with the basics of number sense, students discover math facts for themselves in a constructivist style of learning. We are reminded that while there may be a right answer, there is no one right way to arrive at that answer and the power of allowing students to explore and explain their thinking.
Boaler provides tons of great examples of simple 'games' aka activities to encourage this thinking including one of my new favorite apps kenken puzzles along with a variety of resources from youcubed.org that will start you on the way to understanding the benefit of a growth mindset in mathematics.
She touches on a variety of related topics as well, such as the benefits of heterogeneous vs. homogeneous grouping in math classes. Her position on the role of homework is particularly relevant to any content area. She espouses the value of reflection as opposed to repetition, advocating for a sort of flipped classroom model in which the practice and discover is done in class with students engaging in self-assessment as homework.
As I visit schools and have sat in on curriculum committee work, I routinely hear how math is 'special' that there is such a broad range of abilities teachers require special consideration in designing programs that essentially track students and impose upon them a fixed mindset related to math ability, setting them up continued struggle, failure and lowered self-esteem. Jo Boaler offers practical methods that can be implemented without a complete curriculum re-write that will ease the tension and frustration for students and teachers alike. Add this book to your summer reading list!
Carol Glanville, M.Ed.
Organizational Design Consultant