How to learn Math

I’m taking Jo Boaler’s How to Learn Math MOOC.  This course is for teachers and parents and aims to give ideas to help to change the relationship students have with Maths.  I have been covering the material over the past 2 weeks and I’m really enjoying it. The course is very well structured.  There are 8 different sections covering

  1. Introduction
  2. Maths and Mindset
  3. Mistakes and Persistence
  4. Teaching for a growth mindset
  5. Conceptual Learning – Number Sense
  6. Conceptual Learning – Connections, Representations, Questions
  7. Appreciating Algebra
  8. Going from this course to a new Mathematical Future

In each section there are a number of videos with Jo sharing some research, thoughts and examples with input from others as appropriate. After most of the videos we are asked to share our thoughts on what we have heard or seen.  Some of these submissions are peer assessed.

So far I have completed five of the eight sections and there are a few things that have really grabbed my attention.  Firstly, the importance of fostering a growth mindset in our children. Carol Dweck shares her ideas on mindset as follows

“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

 “Stanford University’s Carol Dweck on the Growth Mindset and Education” 2012-06-19.

The fixed mindset really cuts to the heart of what so many feel about Maths.  People are either good at it or they’re not and if you’re not there’s very little you can do about it.   What surprised me the most is that the idea was put forward that this fixed mindset does as much damage to the students who are seen as ‘good at maths’ as it often holds them back from challenging themselves due to a fear of failing.

This brings me nicely to the next idea that has really grabbed me – the idea that it’s ok to make mistakes.  This is something I have fostered over my teaching career as I believe that really powerful learning can happen when mistakes are made and resolved.  This concept has really been emphasised in the course so far.

The final thing that has really grabbed me so far is the importance of getting students to ‘make sense’ of the Maths.  It’s not enough to apply the rule without having an understanding of what you are doing and what it achieves.  This is something i feel strongly about as I really don’t see how students benefit from blindly applying formulae that they have no understanding of.  There are many ways of doing this but most center around getting students to work together and to share strategies for working through problems.  This gives students an opportunity to see other perspectives and to see the inherent flexibility in Maths which is so often suppressed.

I am really looking forward to completing this course as it has got me thinking about how I can do things differently in my classes as I start the new academic year in the next few weeks.


One response to “How to learn Math

  1. Pingback: Building Conceptual Understanding and Number Sense | supportingmaths

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