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 primary 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…


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