People tend to have strong and often rather negative beliefs about math. These beliefs typically come from their experiences with math when they were in school– harmful teaching practices, being told there is only one right way to solve a problem and not being allowed to think outside the box, students getting anxiety from being timed while solving math problems, and damaging ideas about math.
Over time, these negative math beliefs turn into debilitating messages that are the root of math failure: some people have a gift for math and others don’t. These messages then get passed to other people– “it’s okay if you don’t understand, I was never good at math either,” or “I’m just not a math person.”
Everyone Can Be Successful in Math
While there are people that truly believe you either get math or you don’t, brain research shows that everyone can be successful in math with the right teaching and positive experiences in math.
Current brain research focuses on the ability of the brain to grow and change at amazing rates. The brain research also suggests that the major difference between those that succeed and those that don’t is not the brain that they are born with but the opportunities they are given to learn, their attitude about life, and the messages they hear about their potential.
Adults’ Attitudes and Anxieties Impact Students
Unfortunately, adults tend to pass their negative views about math to their children. While we may not be intentionally giving off negative messages, children interpret comments such as “I know math is hard, but you can do it” or “I was bad at math,” negatively and they develop anxiety about math. The good news is that negative messages about math can be reversed.
Parents and teachers can help students to have a more positive outlook on math by:
- encouraging students to have a growth mindset (the belief that smartness increases with hard work),
- acknowledging that people see math in different ways,
- exploring the various strategies that children use to solve problems,
- providing rich open ended math problems instead of just focusing on algorithms, and
- creating an environment where students understand that mistakes are okay because they are opportunities to learn.
Children need to believe in their own potential and have the opportunities to explore, reason, and engage deeply with math.
For more information:
Visit YouCubed.org by Stanford University
Read Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets (2015)
Written by Beth Chamberlin