Encouraging a Mathematical Mindset
Sarah loves elementary school. Indoors, she's getting messy with classroom crafts and projects while outdoors she's running, climbing, and sliding in the playground. Sarah remembers circle and story times at the rainbow rug with her friends and teachers. She's sad to leave her elementary school this year, but she's also excited to be moving on to junior high school in the fall. Mom and dad are also excited as well as a bit concerned. How can they encourage Sarah to continue developing a successful growth mindset?
Research shows that successful learning outcomes happen when children believe that intelligence grows with effort. While helpful in all subjects, this idea is especially powerful in math class due to the prevalent belief in society that people are either good or bad at math. If one cannot solve a difficult math problem quickly, then one is not a "math person". Research suggests that adopting this belief can actually make it come true. This idea that, by believing in it, people may actually be at risk of confirming a negative stereotype is called stereotype threat. Those who successfully combat the stereotype are often those who refuse to identify with it in the first place. In other words, simply by stating "I am a math person", a child is more likely to perform like a "math person".
Mathematics is an intrinsic part of a young child's natural environment. Math learning develops naturally when children are enthusiastic and curious about their environment. Using the following mathematical mindset strategies, parents and teachers can help motivate children to be successful and confident in math.
How can teachers help?
To encourage a mathematical mindset, teachers need to provide children with an opportunity to discover mathematics on their own before the teacher introduces strategies and methods. This develops a child's intuitive number sense and problem solving abilities. Teachers can also ask children for multiple strategies to solving real world example problems. Teachers can encourage children to discuss the strategies they used and compare the different approaches they tried. This ability to explain one's work and reason through to a solution is a skill that will serve children greatly as they grow up and enter the work force as well. Mathematicians often propose theories and need to justify the logical steps to their ideas.
How can parents help?
Parents can also encourage a mathematical mindset in their children with some simple activities. Parents should always be encouraging and excited about math. Provide kids with lots of math puzzles and games to develop solid number sense. Focus on a child's persistence in problem solving and never associate math success with speed. This should minimize math anxiety. To avoid stereotype threat, parents should never say things like "Oh, I'm just not good at math." Instead, encourage a growth mindset by letting children know that math is all about hard work. Use growth praise like "Fantastic problem solving!" or "Great job! You worked so hard on that!"
Remember, mathematical learning grows naturally when children are enthusiastic and curious about their environment. Keep the learning fun and make the growth mindset a part of children's everyday routines.
For parents considering a growth mindset math tutor, visit our math tutoring page.
Photo Credit: Adaptation of Bureau of Land Management photo by Greg Deimel, BLM Nevada. Copyright 2015. Attribution 2.0 Generic License.
New Math Teacher boasts an enthusiastic team of passionate lifelong learners who love to grow that passion in others as well. Our curriculum specialists love to post creative and engaging ideas about math education and learning. We welcome helpful feedback and constructive criticism.