Math Mindsets Matter: How Can Teachers Foster a Growth Mindset in Math?

Oh no! I’ve tumbled down into the rabbit hole of growth mindset research, never to be seen again! All kidding aside, the more I learn about growth mindset, the more fascinated I am with this topic, and the more I realize I have yet to learn.

But as fascinated as I am with growth mindset, I’m even more intrigued by the challenge of putting these research findings into practice. In other words…

How can we use the most current brain research to foster a growth mindset in our students… and in ourselves?

Mathematics is arguably the subject where mindset matters the most, especially when you consider how many adults have experienced math anxiety in the past. Take me, for instance. I always excelled in math, but I’ll never forget the horrible experience I had with college calculus. I’ll save that story for another time, but let me just say that it totally shredded my confidence about my ability to learn math!

Despite that experience (or maybe because of it), when I started teaching, I discovered that I have an aptitude for teaching math. I love breaking down complex math skills to make them easier for kids to understand, and I love using creative teaching methods to help all students succeed in math. Now that I’m no longer in the classroom, I enjoy presenting webinars where I can share these strategies with other educators.

Mind-blowing Brain Research About Mistakes and Mindsets

During one of my recent math webinars, a teacher suggested that I read Jo Boaler’s book, Mathematical Mindsets. I had already been planning to develop a webinar about how to foster a growth mindset in math, so I ordered a copy right away. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to read it when it arrived so the book ended up buried on my desk until I noticed it yesterday.

Oh my goodness! Have you ever read a professional development book that was so compelling you wanted to talk about it with anyone who would listen? That’s how I felt when I started reading Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages, and Innovative Teaching. I was hooked from the first page!

All I can say is the book is definitely living up to the premise of that very long title. I thought I had a good grasp on growth mindset research, but after reading just a few pages, I realized that I’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic.

For example, I knew that mistakes should be considered to be a sign of learning rather than as a sign of failure.

But I didn’t know that when we make a mistake, our brain responds physically with increased electrical activity and actually grows a synapse! Neuroscientists discovered this by measuring this electrical brain activity in test subjects they observed while working. This brain response happens even when the person making the mistake doesn’t consciously realize a mistake was made!

This research finding just blows me away. It means that if our brains actually spark and grow when we make a mistake, mistakes should be encouraged rather than viewed as obstacles to overcome! Furthermore, completing too many assignments without making mistakes should be seen as cause for concern because students are not being challenged!

I learned this tidbit about the brain’s response to mistakes in the first few pages of the first chapter of Mathematical Mindsets, and as I continued to read, I encountered page after page of mind-blowing facts and information. That’s when I realized how much I had to learn about the scientific research supporting growth mindset classroom practices.

Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter Webinar (Register HERE)
I must admit that this realization was humbling in light of the fact that I had just scheduled a webinar called Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter to share strategies for motivating kids to love problem solving by fostering a growth mindset.

I decided to reschedule the webinar to give myself time to dig into Mathematical Mindsets a little more before the presentation. I’m really excited about what I’ve been learning, and my brain is just exploding with new ideas and information! I’m also excited to have uncovered a gold mine of information that could potentially have a tremendous impact on mathematics instruction! As a result of this, I’ve completely changed my plans for the webinar and I’m going to take on the role of facilitator rather than an instructor. Let’s think of the webinar as the beginning of a journey we can embark on together to discover ways of rethinking math instruction. We’ll explore some of the myths that educators and parents have about math education, and I’ll provide more information about where to find that goldmine of math mindset resources I mentioned!

As a former upper elementary teacher, I’m particularly interested in how to implement these strategies in grades 3, 4, and 5. I love collaborating with classroom teachers who are implementing innovative strategies to see how these methods actually work in real classrooms. So I’ve decided to create a free Facebook group for upper elementary teachers who want to share math mindset strategies and who want to support each other on this journey. I’m also hoping we can collaborate to develop appropriate “low floor – high ceiling” math tasks for this age range. During the webinar, I’ll explain how to sign up for the Facebook group.

Won’t you join me on my journey to discover how we can empower all students with a mathematical mindset? If you want to accept this challenge, register for my live webinar, Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter. If you read this after the webinar has ended, you can sign up for the replay by visiting the registration page.

Whether or not you sign up for my webinar, I urge you to read Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets. But be forewarned… you’ll need to adopt a growth mindset about making changes to your current instructional program. Implementing new strategies won’t always be easy, and I’m pretty sure you’ll make a lot of mistakes along the way. But, wait… that’s a GOOD thing because mistakes fire up your brain and make it grow!