Professional Learning

What’s Your Mindset About Math?

Do you have mathematical discussions with your students? I would think that you do it regularly. Consider the following questions and how they resonate with you.

  • Have you read a good book lately?
  • What book are you reading now?
  • Have you done a good math problem lately?
  • What math problem are you working on now?
  • What are the likenesses and differences between the questions above?
  • What are you thinking about now?

My thoughts are many, but these questions make me think about students. We have the responsibility as educators in helping them become lifelong readers and lifelong mathematicians. Why might we be more comfortable with the term “lifelong reader” than “lifelong mathematician”?

Here is why I think so.

We have not created a current atmosphere of being a lifelong mathematician as acceptable. Here is an example. I’ve seen the following question on Facebook in the last few days

What do you do when this happens? Should I chalk this up to how things circulate on Facebook and how we may not think about what we post or when we see such posts? Do we pass along things like this that works without considering how or why it does? Do we subconsciously let down our guard because the post invokes participation using some level of mathematical thinking, so we don’t check it out close enough?

Unfortunately, this is an example where people share misinformation about important issues.

I challenge teachers to use this question as an opportunity to start a mathematical conversation with students. It is an opportunity to help them to develop the varieties of mathematical expertise you desire them to acquire. These are the practices, the important “processes and proficiencies” of importance, the Standards for Mathematical Practice. They describe the ways of developing student practitioners in the discipline of mathematics as they grow their mathematical thinking and expertise throughout their school years. It is a teacher’s jobs to connect the mathematical practices to content in mathematics instruction.

Using the Facebook math question would engage students in the following math practices:

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • Look for and make use of structure.
  • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

What math problem are you working on now? This question is relevant and one that we should be able to ask anyone at any time without the reaction of a chuckle. I’m going to work to change the common mindset around doing math as an acceptable and needed lifelong endeavor. Join me, will you?


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