How to Learn Math Part 2: Mindsets

In the second session of “How to Learn Math”, we learned about mindsets: fixed vs. growth. Unfortunately, our society and teaching methods often lead students to develop fixed mindsets with regards to learning math.

If you want to know more about mindsets yourself, check out Carol Dweck’s book  Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, or if you only have about 4 minutes 32 seconds, you can watch this video.

Here are some of my reflections from this session:

Question: Where do you think kids hear negative messages about math?

Unfortunately, they get it from adults in their lives. Either a parent shares their own stories about how they were bad at math, too, when they were a kid, or they might even hear about it from a teacher. I was at an end-of-year awards ceremony for 5th graders and my jaw dropped when the teacher announcing the awards for best math students said, “The next award is for one of those subjects you either love or hate. Most of the students hate it. The award for best math student goes to….” (True story!)

Question: If schools took on mindset evidence seriously, what would they need to change?

Giving out awards for grades would need to change. At the end of every grading period, when they are handed out, it gives the message that these are the “smart” kids in every subject, but there isn’t necessarily a correlation between their grades and the effort expended. I was one of those kids who got all As on my report card and the pressure mounted every grading period because I was afraid I would eventually let everyone down by getting a B in something. I focused less on learning and understanding and more on doing what I had to do to maintain my As, including cheating on assignments. If schools can focus instead on effort, and maybe even do away with awards assemblies altogether, students will start to see that everyone struggles at one time or another. I would go so far as to say that grades should be done away with because they are too abstract in relation to the learning students are doing on a daily basis.

Question: How has the information in this session changed your thinking about your own ability in any way?

It made me think about how I had a fixed mindset as a child. I thought I was naturally good at school. I didn’t feel like I had to put in that much effort and I still got all As. The trouble is that I had to maintain those grades for fear of letting my parents down. If I could do it before, why couldn’t I do it now? As a result, I was one of those students who avoided taking risks. I chose the easiest path, and I got upset if anything was challenging. I know now that I have the capacity to learn and change based on the effort I put into my work. I wish I had that mindset all along. Who knows what I would have done differently in my life as a result.


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