I identified that as soon as the word ‘Maths’ came into the equation there was an immediate shut off and disengagement of the learning no matter what it was we were focusing on. There was an immediate ‘fixed mindset’ happening.
I had found out about this whole concept of ‘mindsets’ a few years ago when I completed a course through Stanford University – How to learn Math. In that course Carol Deck’s book about mindsets was heavily used and made a lot of sense.
I decided I was going to be the guinea pig and see if it actually worked. For me I was one of those people with a fixed mindset around maths. Every time I knew I had to do it I would get this overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety because I believed that I was no good at maths and that I was dumb. So when my students said those same words I knew exactly how they were feeling.
I made a conscious decision that I was going to change that mindset and embrace maths and after completing the course I did have a very different outlook on the whole concept of maths. So over the last few years I have been like a sponge learning Maths. I now have a passion for maths and am starting to see more and more about the beauty of maths and really coming to the understanding that it is all about patterns. If you can find the pattern you can solve the problem.
Three years on and my focus is now on how to change that mindset in my students. Every time I hear one of them saying I am dumb or I am no good at maths, I come back with “Yet”.
Then we have this discussion about how it is only because they have not seen the pattern and for some people they need to put a bit more energy into finding that pattern than others but it by no means this is all they will ever know or be the limit of their understanding. But for some the mindset is very deep and it needs to be dislodged in another way other than conversation.
Amazingly enough all of the teachers I co teach with are of the same thought about the importance of changing the mindset to improve learning.
This term our inquiry is around Connections. The area I am focusing on is Making Connections through Puzzles and using the Reasoning learning muscle.
A couple of interesting facts became evident very quickly.
1. It was filled with most of the kids that hate maths.
2. They loved it.
There was no fixed mindset at all. Granted they were easy puzzles but nevertheless they still had to think about what they were doing.
So we hooked in the different levels of thinking and how every time we make a decision we use our reasoning muscle and how that the more information we have the easier it is to make a good decision etc.… Still had really engaged students. Not once have we used the word ‘maths’. I did have a couple of student’s say it can’t work when we were doing Tangrams. So I told one of them to stand up and look at it from a different perspective and Wola, he got it and was away again.
One of the students in particular that was very difficult in our maths classes last term has been totally engaged and loving it. Very quick and has a natural ability towards solving puzzles.
I was talking to him today and this is the conversation,
Me: How did you find that puzzle? Was it hard, easy? Did you like it or not?
Him: I loved it. It was hard but fun.
Me: Why did you love it?
Him: Because I love doing this sort of thing. Working on puzzles.
Me: Did you know that the same process we have been using to solve puzzles is the same as in maths?
Him: Aye? (With an unbelieving look on his face)
Me: You remember when we were in maths last term and you said, ‘I am dumb I can’t do this”
Him: Yes (by this time he looking at me like he knows where I am going with it but doesn’t want to go there)
Me: Well that is your fixed mindset on the word maths. In your mind you believe this …about maths and that you are no good.
Him: Smiles at me and says, “ Yes you are right”
Me: You have a growth mindset around puzzles and you know you can solve them you just know that you need to think about it for a while and try a few different strategies before you solve it. Well that is exactly what maths is like. Look for the pattern and you solve the problem.
Him: He smiles and you could see the penny drop in his mind. He got it.
I was over the moon, I had managed to change his mindset on Maths and we haven’t even spoken about the term maths since last term.
I was so excited I had to share my break through with another couple of teachers. One of the other maths teachers in our area and he mentioned maybe not even using the word problem solving. Which led to lets take the words problem solving out of the equation totally and use the word puzzlings.
So our next session will be on what does puzzling mean? What are we doing when we are puzzling over something? We will see if that makes a difference in their mindsets.