Math: Is a Mindset Adjustment Necessary?

“I’m not good at math.” “My mom or dad weren’t good at math and neither am I.” “Math isn’t in my genes.” “I never was good at it, so I understand why my child isn’t either.” If you work in schools or have been around other parents or students that are talking about academics, these are phrases that I’m sure you have heard, or have even said, yourself. In our culture of learning, math is often viewed as one of those things that you either get or you don’t. You’re either born with it or your doomed to struggle with it forever.  The bottom line is we view it with a very fixed, rather than a growth, mindset.

So what does this mean and why am I challenging us to change this culture? Mindset is our perceptions or beliefs about our abilities and qualities related to intelligence or creativity, for example. How we handle challenges and respond when faced with difficulties in large part is due to our mindset. Do you have a fixed mindset where you believe abilities are fixed; you either have it or you don’t?  Or do you have a growth mindset where you believe that with effort, learning, and persistence, you can impact your abilities?

Take reading and math, for example. There are some pretty stark differences in how we view them. In reading, we encourage daily practice, year, after year, after year. We believe, that with practice, we can and will learn to read. On the contrary, in math, we tend to have the attitude of “I don’t get it so why try.” As staff, parents, and community, we need to treat math the very same way we treat reading. Why can’t you be good at math even though your mom or dad may have struggled with it?  Why can’t you be good at math even though you don’t understand it now? We need to emphasize the effect of perseverance, problem solving, and effort. We need to emphasize the theory of “yet”. Instead of telling your child you understand why math is hard because it was for you too, let them know that they just haven’t gotten it yet. Emphasize continually practicing and working with a growth mindset, knowing that they will get it with hard work and effort.

Mindset matters!

Sherri Stengel