Taking a New Pathway Through Your Teaching: The Wonder of Mindset Mathematics

Mindset Math

Imagine going to school each day and entering a classroom filled with students who are eager to explore mathematical ideas, willing to embrace failure and struggle, and persistent with any math problem you give them. As teachers, we have often been led to believe that the greatest math lessons come about when we have good curriculum materials and interesting tasks — those are important, without doubt, but the new science of the brain is telling us that engaged and successful students come about when students believe they have unlimited potential and that they can learn anything.

Studies even show that our brains grow the most when we’re struggling and challenged, and if you believe in yourself, as a teacher or a student, your brain will grow more when you encounter challenge than if you doubt your potential (see a 1-minute video explaining that below).

It’s really important — for many reasons — that students have a growth mindset in mathematics, but how do we encourage a growth approach to learning? The last decade of the No Child Left Behind Act has left many students (and teachers) thinking that math class is all about performing, not learning. Students believe that the goal of math class is to answer questions correctly, not experience growth, creativity, or learning, and they often feel devastated when they struggle or fail.

No matter which curriculum standards are in place in your school, or which textbooks you’re given to use, we all have the opportunity to change that, and to introduce students to mindset mathematics. I recommend this whole-heartedly, as it’s wonderfully rewarding for students and for teachers. This excerpt from an upcoming film shares some of the incredible reactions to the change from teachers and students.

Register For Jo Boaler’s Online Class

Teaching mindset mathematics to students is about giving students important messages. Just as importantly, it’s about offering mathematics as a growth subject, filled with opportunities for creativity, discussions, and multiple perspectives. You probably didn’t learn mathematics in this way yourself, so my Stanford team and I have developed many resources to help teachers start this fulfilling journey. One resource that seems to help teachers the most is an online Stanford class that I first created three years ago, and have now redesigned and released. It opens on June 7th, 2016. Watch the short video below to learn more about the course.

The original class was the first MOOC on mathematics teaching and learning, and one of the first online classes for which districts gave salary credit — teachers can now receive 30 hours of credit for completing it. Unlike most online classes, it’s not a series of lectures, but instead engages teachers actively, asking them to watch classroom videos, listen to video interviews with thought leaders such as Sebastian Thrun and Carol Dweck, learn new pedagogical methods, plan tasks and interventions for students, and be part of a vibrant online community. Many teachers who have taken the class didn’t want it to end and started their own Facebook group to continue the exciting discussions. 95% of teachers rate the course as excellent, 96% say they’re more excited to teach mathematics afterwards, and 96% feel better prepared. Over 50,000 teachers have taken the course to date. You can access the course here.

I also have a book, Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, that can set you on a mindset mathematics pathway, and a website, www.youcubed.org, that shares a wide range of free resources to help you: lesson ideas, rich tasks, parent handouts, a free online class for students, and other research-inspired ideas.

Going Beyond Traditional And Imaginary Boundaries

As teachers, we need to free our young people from the crippling idea that they must not fail, that they cannot mess up, that only some students can be good at math, and that success should be easy and not involve effort. We need to introduce students to creative, beautiful mathematics that allows them to ask questions that have not been asked, and to think of ideas that go beyond traditional and imaginary boundaries.

When we encourage open mathematics and the learning messages that support it, we develop our own intellectual freedom, as teachers and parents, and inspire that freedom in others (Mathematical Mindsets, p. 208). I love to get involved in the discussions inside my online course and to be a part of a teacher’s journey towards growth and mindset mathematics. I hope you’ll connect with me this summer or beyond. Whether the online course is your path or not, I hope you join me in changing students’ experiences of mathematics and changing who they think they are as learners; it may be the most important teaching move you ever make.

Dr Jo Boaler is a Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University and the co-founder of youcubed. She is also an analyst for PISA testing in the OECD, and author of the first MOOC on mathematics teaching and learning. Her former roles have included being the Marie Curie Professor of Mathematics Education in England, a mathematics teacher in London comprehensive schools, and a lecturer and researcher at King’s College, London. Her PhD won the national award for educational research in the UK, and her book Experiencing School Mathematics won  the “Outstanding Book of the Year” award for education in Britain. She is an elected fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (Great Britain), and a former president of the International Organization for Women and Mathematics Education (IOWME). She is the recipient of a National Science Foundation “Early Career Award,” the NCSM Kay Gilliland Equity Award (2014), and the CMC Walter Denham Mathematics Leadership award (2016). She is the author of nine books and numerous research articles. Her latest book is Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching. She serves as an advisor to several Silicon Valley companies. She was an Aspen ideas speaker and a White House presenter on girls and STEM. She recently formed www.youcubed.org to give teachers, parents, and student the resources and ideas they need to inspire and excite students about mathematics. Her work has been published in the Times, The Telegraph, The Financial Times, and many other news outlets. She was recently named one of the eight educators “changing the face of education” by the BBC.


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