Mathematical Mindsets continued

The development of mathematical proficiency can emerge from teachers’ efforts to establish sociomathematical norms. – Signe E. Kastberg

When I taught the Mathematics Content for Teachers course to university sophomores last fall, I had them complete a mathematical mindset survey (found in the last blog post I wrote) the first day I met them, and on the last day of an 11-week course. Although three of the students did not complete the final survey, making the post-survey n=20, compared to the pre-survey n of 23, I found the results of the post-survey encouraging.

On the post-survey

·         55% of my students agreed with the statement “I like math”, compared to 30% on the pre-survey

·         65% agreed with the statement “I can tell if my answers in math make sense”, up from 48% on the pre-survey

·         The percent of students who agreed that “math is creative” came in at 70%, up from the initial 57%

·         60% of my students strongly agreed and 35% just agreed with the statement “If I put in enough effort I can succeed in mathematics – an interesting shift from 60% who just agreed and 35 percent who strongly agreed at the beginning of the course.

·         The percentage of students who strongly disagreed that “It is important in math to be fast” went up from 9% to 45%!!!!

My favorite shift came in response to the statement “I look forward to math class”, where the numbers for disagree and strongly disagree disappeared entirely. Granted, I had 3 fewer students at the end, but the numbers shifted enough to compensate for this, meaning that even if it was just a few, students now look forward to math class more than they did before (visual below).

So how did this shift happen? I believe it was a result of how I set up classroom norms and expectations to align with the principles of Jo Boaler’s work around Mathematical Mindsets in general and Positive Classroom Norms specifically. 

I feel that in order to help our students develop a positive disposition toward mathematics and see themselves as sense-makers we, as teahers, must apply the principles of Growth mindset to what we expect, what we applaud, and what we promote. 


We expect We applaudWe promote
That all students will reach the highest levels they want to, with hard work and a good teacher;
That students will take a different amount of time, effort, and struggle to learn the mathematics;
Mistakes, struggle, sense-making, and perseverance are all part of learning mathematics .
Students who are creative and non-traditional thinkers;
Students who use visuals, models, and other aids to help them make sense of mathematics;
Students who explain their thinking and connect their ideas to previous knowledge and ideas of their peers.
The fact that there is no such thing as a “math person”the idea of brain neuroplasticity – mistakes and struggle grow our brain;
Asking questions and taking through challenging ideas;
Depth over speed;
Learning over performing.

It is through the principles of growth mindset that we can begin to shift our discipline from a place laden with anxiety and trauma to a place of nourishing and growth. More about that next month. 

What successes and challenges have you experienced with regard to students’ mindsets when it comes to mathematics? Share them in the comments below! 

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What would you like to hear about next? Email us at  congruentthoughts@nl.edu or tweet us @ProfessorAleksV and @GeorgeLitman1

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