As a math teacher for 25 years, I can't tell you how many times a parent has proudly announced to me they can't do math. In fact, innumeracy seems to be a badge of honor for some folks. During that same time, never once have I heard an adult brag that they can't read.
How is this the case?
Here's a quick thought of mine: In America mathematical aptitude is seen as a result of good genetics rather than from hard work. While we Americans take it for granted that becoming a lawyer or a brain surgeon or a civil engineer is the result of years of hard work, mathematics is merely a gift one is born with. It's as if no amount of hard work can overcome the genetics one is born with.
We never hear a teacher or parent say of a student, "He just doesn't have the right genes to learn how to read. Oh well." For a struggling reader, we spare no expense in helping that student learn how to read. The same cannot be said for mathematics.
Each year Back-to-School Night, I tell parents that I believe ALL students can learn math. It is merely a matter of working hard (both me and the student), finding the right instructional method to match the student's needs, and having enough time. Given those three ingredients, ALL students can learn mathematics. Genetics be darned. We now call this Growth Mindset...thanks Carol Dweck!
Jo Boaler - a colleague of Dweck's and an amazing educator herself - says it this way on her youcubed site:
"There is a really damaging myth that pervades the US/UK and other countries – the idea that some people are born with a “math brain” and some are not. This has been resoundingly disproved by research but many students and parents believe this. It is really important to communicate “growth mindset” messages to students. Help them know that everyone is a math person and that the latest research is telling us that students can reach any levels in math because of the incredible plasticity of the brain."
How does a teacher accomplish this? Boaler makes it easy by providing a full one-week curriculum called the "Week of Inspirational Math". It is a project of the Stanford Graduate School of Education. They have developed a Week of Inspirational Math, designed for teachers to use the first week of school to inspire positive math mindsets in their students. Each lesson is aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Standards for Mathematical Practice, can be adapted for several grade levels, and includes a video and surveys for teachers, students, and parents. Teachers can also discuss each lesson with each other on a discussion board.
If you haven't already done so, please consider ways to create a classroom atmosphere that oozes of Mathematical Growth Mindset. What does that look like? Sound like? What would students in this kind of classroom say?
Start with a Week of Inspirational Math!
Please tell me below how it goes....