You always hear people say, "kids don't like math!" don't like feeling dumb. People don't like feeling dumb. Feeling dumb comes from being told you're "wrong" over and over. Math education effectively does this better than just about any other subject in school. It's no wonder that people are sending out tweets like this:
Things get even worse when we start throwing grades in the mix. Now, all of a sudden, not only are we telling kids they're wrong...we're punishing them for it. It shouldn't be surprising that students are reluctant to take risks, persist with difficult problems, and trust their own thinking; they don't want to get it wrong. Today, I saw this tweet:
To which, I replied:
On second thought, I should have written: "It CAN'T exist independent of a specific group of kids." I mean, of course we know it can, and it does, but isn't this putting the cart before the horse?!? When your curriculum is decided in advance, you've already told students what the measure for "knowing" is and if they don't meet that then something is wrong with them. I've written about other curriculum/lesson structures that respond more directly to students but my concern goes beyond that.

I have had the pleasure of "mentoring" (which is a total misnomer...we really just learn from each other) one of our new teachers this year. She's amazing. Yesterday we were planning a probability unit together and we were trying to figure out an answer to the unit question that would drive our investigation of probability. In the process, her and I were collaborating, conjecturing and testing, investigating smaller problems, drawing diagrams, and listening closely to each other. Honestly, I don't really care if, as a class, we are successful in calculating an exact answer to this problem. I want students to come up with an answer that makes sense to them, that responds to their ways of knowing, and that is reflective of their deepening understanding of chance and probability. To quote a brilliant mentor of mine, "I guess my point is, 'solving' the unit problem will certainly be in the discussion but we'll be 'successful' moreso because students invented the solution, rather than being told." Mostly, I just want the students to have the same experience we had; the experience of playing with and doing mathematics.

I know there are "realities" in a lot of schools that make this difficult. Benchmarks, AYP, API, etc, etc. There are all sorts of measures of success and progress out there (most of which, I would argue, are false indicators of "learning"). Well, here's my vote for success/progress:
I want people to know that we are all mathematical in our thinking...maybe just not in the ways that school has defined mathematics. I want fewer people to hate math.


04/06/2012 1:21pm

Is there something about growth vs fixed mindset here a la Carol Dweck?

04/06/2012 1:34pm

We talk a lot about Dweck and Mindset throughout the year in class. In some ways, I can't blame students for having a fixed mindset. I hope this post moves beyond that and touches on the curriculum we are imposing on students and how (possibly) that curriculum is creating fixed mindsets in children.

04/07/2012 11:22am

A quote to back up your point about being made to feel dumb in math class:
"It is among the greatest ironies of education that a subject so graceful and elegant, so able to inspire and bolster confidence, and so useful for living a joyous and effective life should be presented in a manner that strips it of its substance and glory and leaves students feeling bludgeoned and inept, convinced that they 'stink at math.'"
– Suzanne Sutton

04/23/2012 12:59pm

Your comment about measuring the success of our mathematics classes by the student's belief in their ability to do mathematics was not at all crazy. It would be a huge improvement over our current system, wherein almost all kids think they stink at mathematics (as Suzanne points out).

04/23/2012 1:04pm

Thanks David! I'm working on other forms of assessment that more closely evaluate and encourage the habits of mind that I would want students emerging from public education to utilize. I'm not sure how much impact it will have beyond my classroom?? I'll be sure to blog about it soon.

10/19/2012 4:08am

Hi Bryan, This is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs to read. Only saw this post because Dan just linked it on his page.
I read recently that student surveys of teacher effectiveness correlated very well with other measures (standardized tests). It's funny that you've made some reference already to it here (student enjoyment/belief in being a mathematician).


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