Mindset, maths and myths

How many of you hated maths at school?  If you were good at maths, did you think that you were just born that way?  Until I heard of the work of Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler, that’s exactly what I thought too.

Fixed mindsets are common in mathematics.

When I think of my own primGirl playing legoary maths education, I remember timed mental maths drills, pages of sums that got progressively harder, and silence.  Jo Boaler has taught us that depth of understanding is much more important than speed, and that discussing mathematical ideas with the teacher and classmates can help understanding.  Using word problems with real life stories makes maths relevant, and helps to identify gaps in understanding.

Traditional maths classrooms can cause lots of anxiety in children who don’t react well to timed exercises, children who have not understood fundamental concepts, and children who are afraid of failure.  Fostering a growth mindset culture in the maths classroom, where mistakes are actively sought out to be celebrated, is a much better environment for children to learn.  Explaining that the brain grows when we make mistakes in maths also helps to dispel the idea that children who make mistakes in maths simply don’t have maths brains.

Beliefs of parents have an effect too – research has shown that when mothers tell their daughters that they were rubbish at maths at school, their daughters’ exam results suffer as a result.  Traditional female toys such as dolls and makeup may place girls at a disadvantage to their male peers, who are exposed to mathematical toys such as lego and mechano.  How much better for parents to give a strong positive message about maths to all of their children, irrespective of gender, from a very young age.

Many pupils, parents and teachers believe in a maths giftedness, as I once did, but this is a myth there is no such thing as a maths brain.  Anyone can understand and achieve maths to a high level when it is taught deeply and conceptually.

What methods are you using in your maths classroom?  We’d love it if you would share your experiences, just comment on this blog…


3 thoughts on “Mindset, maths and myths”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with this. I remember the Maths tests on Friday, knowing your position in the class, etc. etc. That’s great if you are good at Maths but children who struggle or lack confidence resign themselves to knowing that they are not a Maths person. Thankfully, I have heard some really good Maths discussions in classes recently and I feel there is a growing awareness of it being acceptable to make mistakes and learn from them.

  2. Hi Alison,
    Enjoyed this article, it very much resonated with my experiences growing up through high school (a long time ago). I have a maths teacher friend who told me Maths was like learning a foreign language and your brain could function that way, or perhaps not – it wasn’t open to everyone and failure to grasp maths just meant you weren’t wired for this special form of thinking – you didn’t have a ‘maths brain’. Significantly, that fitted in with my thinking and gave me the opt out – I was good with literacy! I speak to my pupils about this regularly.
    I also found the role and influence of parents illuminating and something that we will highlight in our work with our associated Primary Schools and parents asap. I will pass this on to our Acting PT Maths – I’m sure she will find the content equally fascinating and may want to give feedback.

  3. How many of you hated maths in school? My answer to this is me! Maths was never something I was good at and I struggled with it all through high school. When it came to my 5th year higher I failed miserably. I decided to try again in 6th year, I had a new teacher and a fresh start. I passed my higher but thanks to my teacher. He was positive, caring but firm and honest. He made me realise I could do it if I wanted to and that I was capable of anything I put my mind to. Mistakes were encouraged and talked about and learned from. I use this way of teaching in my own class. We talk about our mistakes and discuss how we can learn and grow from them. I challenge my pupils and encourage them to try and fight for the things they want to achieve.

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