Mathematical Mindsets: a Collaborative Book Study

 “I’m not good at math either . . . she must have gotten that from me. . .” What?! This negative (& ridiculous) comment from parents always makes me respond, “Math is not a hereditary gene.”  Although, truth be told, as a child and even into adulthood, I labeled myself as one of those “not good at math.” What I’ve come to realize is that I AM good at math; I just wasn’t good at mindlessly applying formulas that I didn’t understand or solving story problems that made no sense to me.

As a glass half-full type of person, I was immediately intrigued by the title of the book, Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler. Over the past few years,  I’ve been reading more and more about the importance having a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset. Applying mindsets to  math is just what I need to learn more about! 

So excited to link up with some fabulous teacher bloggers for a collaborative book study! What better time than summer to read & reflect & of course, start thinking about school beginning! (Sigh. . . in what other job do people do this?!) We will be reading, summarizing and applying one chapter per week. I hope you’ll grab a copy of the book and study along with us. Be sure to post your comments and reflection in the comments section at the bottom! I can’t wait for fall to apply all that I’m learning!
Chapter Summary
“When we learn a new idea, an electric current ties in our brains, crossing synapses and connecting different areas of the brain. If you learn something deeply, the synaptic activity will create lasting connections in your brain.”, p. 1 Brains can grow, adapt, and change, so EVERYONE can be successful in math with the right teaching and positive messages! Although brain differences can give some people a head start in life, they are not as important as the (brain growth) experiences we have throughout our lives.

A fixed mindset has students believing either they are smart or they are not. Unfortunately, when students are praised (for results; doing something well), they feel good at first, but when they fail or struggle later, they question themselves and whether they are smart. These kids tend to choose easier tasks to ensure success. However, when praised for effort, students choose more challenging tasks.

Students may be unready for some mathematics because they still need to learn some foundational, prerequisite mathematics they have not yet learned, but not because their brain cannot develop the connections because of their age or maturity. When students need new connections, they can learn them.

My Takeaway
I have to admit I’ve been guilty of being frustrated when my new fourth graders come in lacking the foundational skills. But WOW, this line struck me:
I have to change MY OWN mindset &  give them the right experiences!

3 Tips for the Classroom
Learn more about growth mindsets! WATCH this Ted Talk by Carol Dweck: the power of "not yet"  — the idea that we can grow our brain's capacity to learn and to solve problems. In this talk, she describes two ways to think about a problem that’s slightly too hard for you to solve. Are you not smart enough to solve it … or have you just not solved it yet?
I love her conclusion, “Let’s not waste any more lives, because once we know that abilities are capable of such growth, it becomes a basic human right for children, all children, to live in places that create that growth, to live in places filled with yet.” Not just in the math classroom, but think about the possibilities and successes for all children in all areas of school (& life)!

We talk a lot about our “readerly life” and our “writerly life” in school; we also need to learn about our students as mathematicians, as well as begin their thinking about their "math life". Discuss and have students reflect on “Myself as a Mathematician.” Depending on my class or age of my students, I have a survey they can complete or they write on their own.
You can download your copy of the survey here.
Start thinking about yourself as a mathematician. When do you use math in your own life? When do you use a calculator vs. estimating in your head? Being aware of "real life math" will help us help our students. I share my former negative thoughts about math (my fixed mindset), but then how I discovered that I love math, I love teaching math, and I love finding math all around! I share my struggles and successes with my students, emphasizing that I continue to grow and learn, even as an adult.

I'll admit, I read ahead (I couldn't put the book down!) and I'm so excited for all the upcoming practical suggestions and challenges for my teaching. Stop by next Thursday for Chapter 2! I'd love to read your thoughts and comments below!


  1. I enjoyed reading your post! I love that you included a Carol Dweck video. It really gives some background to the purpose behind the book. I also really like your "Myself as a Mathematician" activity. It reminds me of a model lesson that I conducted recently with a group of sixth graders. At the end of the lesson, I said, "Tell me one think we did today that made you feel like a mathematician" since the underlying theme of my lesson was to "Think Like a Mathematician" in order to send the message-- a can do math.

    1. I love that idea! It's so important to get our students to think of themselves as mathematicians!

  2. I love your post! I also love your "Myself as a Mathematician" survey. I really want to dig into math in the real world and how math influences EVERYTHING and really relate it to the kids and why it's important. Just think of all the things they are into that use math and they don't even realize it...internet search algorithms, video game programs, it goes on and on. I think that tapping into the relevance of math in their lives, we can help them to build the skills and growth mindset that they can tackle anything. I'm so excited to read further into this book!

    1. I'm so glad you're joining us! I agree; there are SO many ways that math is all around us! Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm going to read the picture book, A Day Without Math by Marilyn Kaye. It'll be a great introduction!

  3. I like how you highlighted that by providing instruction to shore up foundational/prerequisite skills, teachers can help students make connections that lead to learning. This helps to dispel the notion that their brains cannot develop the connections because of their age or maturity. I appreciate that you linked up your survey to share. Thank you for hosting the book study.

    1. You're so welcome! I'm glad you're studying with us! I think it's going to take a lot of parent education about mindsets & how the brain can always develop those connections also!