Cultivating a positive math mindset for Arlington students

  • Friday, December 21, 2018 12:23pm
  • Opinion

By Chrys Sweeting

Last year, a team of Arlington teachers, community members and administrators began working with the Washington State Leadership Academy to identify an area of need based on data. Mathematical learning and achievement for grades K-12 was identified.

The team is grappling with the question, “How do we improve K-12 teaching and learning in math to increase achievement and opportunities for every student to pursue any pathway in school and beyond?” An action plan has been developed and, as part of that plan, we are emphasizing cultivating a positive growth mindset, especially in mathematics. What does this mean?

It means helping students believe they can learn and achieve at high levels in all areas, including math. It means replacing fixed mindsets like, “I can’t do math,” or “I don’t have a math brain” with a growth mindset where students believe in themselves and approach learning in math with confidence.

It involves students being persistent and working hard to:

•Embrace challenges

•Never give up

•See effort as part of learning

•Use feedback (positive and negative) to improve growth in learning

•Be inspired and learn from the success of others

•See mistakes as part of learning

Have you ever wondered what happens in your brain when you make a mistake?

District leaders, including school board members, are engaged in a study of the book “Mathematical Mindsets” by author Jo Boaler. In her book she states that, “Mistakes cause your brain to spark and grow.” She references research by psychologist Jason Moser who found that when a mistake is made, there is increased brain electrical activity and the presence of a brain signal suggesting conscious attention to the mistake, both of which contribute to igniting new learning.

In the book, Boaler highlights new research about our brain’s capacity to grow and change in a very short time called “brain plasticity.” The idea that the brain we are born with can’t really change is now disproved. Recent studies show that our brains have an amazing capacity to grow, adapt and change. Another step within the WSLA plan includes grade-level representatives meeting throughout the year to review math grade-level standards, scope and sequence, and instructional practices and expectations. In Arlington, we are excited to grow a positive math mindset and increase the belief and capacity of each student to engage and excel in high levels of mathematical learning throughout their K-12 educational journey.

Chrys Sweeting is superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, which runs a monthly column in this newspaper.

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