Not a “Math Person”? Wrong!

When it comes to math and mindset, there are two #eduheroes I refer to on a regular basis:  Dr. Jo Boaler, who is a professor at Stanford and the genius behind the YouCubed website, and Alice Keeler, who many know to be a Google wizard but also has a published book called, Teaching Math with Google Apps: 50 G Suite Activities.  You can imagine my excitement, then, when I learned that they would be presenting a session together at ISTE. (Dr. Boaler joined us through Google Hangouts).

Dr. Boaler wrote the book, Mathematical Mindsets.  Not surprisingly, it includes a foreword by Carol Dweck, the leading expert on growth and fixed mindsets.  Dr. Boaler’s main points are that we need to value the different ways that people see math and have more class discussions about math – rather than repetitive questions on worksheets. According to her research, people become proficient in mathematics when their brains have the opportunity to make connections between visual and numerical representations – not because they are born “math people.”  The least effective way to teach math is through lecture, while the most effective is with Project and Problem Based Learning.

Both Boaler and Keeler agree that we need to dispel the myth that those who can do math quickly are better thinkers than those who reason through problems.  In fact, Boaler says, “I’m unimpressed that you worked through it quickly because that tells me that you are not thinking deeply.”

Another controversial topic we all agree on – homework.  Recent studies have shown that assigning elementary students homework is ineffective.  Boaler and Keeler (and I agree) both believe that this is true for all ages, particularly when the homework is a worksheet of repetitive practice.  A better way to think about math is to do an activity like the one below, where students think about one problem in multiple ways.

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When an audience member asked about the problem of spending time on conversing about math when there is a scope and sequence to follow, both Keeler and Boaler expressed the feeling that it is actually a waste of time to “plow through” topics despite lack of understanding.  In Boaler’s words, “Pacing guides are the worst evil in education.” Amen!

Keeler shared several “Googlized” adaptations of activities from Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math, including a nice Slides template for the Four 4’s challenge which includes links to individual slides for students to explain their work.  You can find links to more of Keeler’s templates in her presentation here.

Overall, I was so energized by this session that I was tripping over my words when I debriefed with my colleagues that evening.  I had stayed later just to attend this session, and it was definitely worth my time.  Thank you, Alice Keeler and Jo Boaler!

I want to close this post by helping Alice Keeler to honor her book’s co-author, Diana Herrington, a passionate math teacher who recently passed.  You can read more about Diana and her influence on Alice Keeler here.   One of many great quotes from Diana Herrington on Twitter collected by Alice Keeler is, ““I teach students not math.”

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