Written by Kristen Muscat-Fennell – Mathematics Facilitator K-8
“I can’t do math.”
“I wasn’t born with the math gene.”
“I don’t have a math brain.”
Chances are you’ve either heard one of these statements or you’ve offered one yourself. Truth is, there’s no such thing as a math gene. In fact, research suggests that due to the plasticity of the brain and its ability to rewire itself, intelligence is dynamic and can grow with effort.
This means that we all have the ability to develop our inner mathematicians with persistence and a belief in ourselves. This belief is called growth mindset.
In SCDSB, we’ve been learning about growth mindset from the research and teachings of doctors Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler, two renowned professors from Stanford University. Dweck suggests that people have either a fixed or growth mindset. Students with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence and talent are traits you’re born with, and that people are either smart or talented or they aren’t. These students tend to choose an easier task over a more challenging task and tend to give up when tasks become too difficult because they believe that they aren’t smart enough.
Conversely, students with a growth mindset believe that they can learn and achieve with effort and hard work. These students tend to persevere in the face of challenge, building the resilience needed for success.
What can you do as parents to inspire positive math mindsets in your children?
Praise your child’s effort through challenging tasks as opposed to his or her perceived intelligence or talent. “Wow, that was a tough problem! I noticed how you took your time to solve it in two different ways.”
Value mistakes and look for the “good” math in incorrect answers. Our brains grow when we recognize, think about and learn from our mistakes. “I noticed that you made a plan for solving this problem, but it looks like something might be missing. Can you explain the steps you took to find your answer?”
Model positive math mindsets at home. Avoid justifying your child’s achievement in mathematics based upon your own experience. Children tend to identify with the strengths and weakness of their parents and will often say, “My mom (or dad) was never good at math either.” This only reinforces a child’s fixed mindset belief that intelligence is something you are born with.
Appreciate that learning takes time and it is a product of effort. It’s not as much about the outcome as it is about the thinking and the connections made during the process. “It looks like you’re stuck trying to make a plan to solve that problem. Can you make a connection to something you already know about measuring length that might help you?”
Be careful not to place a value on speed or memorization of math facts. Expecting your child to respond quickly to math fact questions like 3 x 4 or 86 – 12 may lead a significant math anxiety and an intense dislike of math. Instead, place value on your child’s ability to think flexibly with numbers. “I took ten away from 86 and got 76. Then I took two more away and got 74.”
Look for opportunities to find the math in everyday situations. Time, money, measurement, probability, rate, ratio, spatial sense and fractions are just a few of the math ideas that can be found in our daily lives. For example, when doubling a recipe, calculating tax or the amount of a sale item, or when calculating elapsed time, the fairness of a game or whether the sofa will fit in a particular space.