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Daily Dish: Boosting Student Success in Learning Math

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December 01, 2015 04:58 pm

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An article in KQED News, ‘Not a Math Person’: How to Remove Obstacles to Learning Math, refutes the idea of a “math brain,” a common myth that some people are math people are others are not.We live in a society with lots of kids who don’t believe they are good at math,” says Stanford math education professor Jo Boaler at an Education Writers Association conference. “They’re put into low groups; they’re given low-level work and their pathway has been set.” In the article, reporter Katrina Schwartz argues that math education doesn’t have to follow this pattern. Schwartz notes that neuroscience research shows a connection between the attitudes and beliefs students possess about themselves and academic performance. She cites research showing that small interventions to alter these attitudes can have an immense effect on performance.

Since “more kids have a fixed mindset about math than anything else,” says Boaler in the piece, it is important to implement growth mindset opportunities in classrooms. By using visual problems that provoke discussion, with multiple methods of solving, Boaler explains that students will believe they can grow and learn, more so than if they are given questions with only right or wrong answers. In particular, visual problems strengthen student learning, Boaler says, since different brain pathways are used when students think visually instead of numerically, and therefore deepening the learning experience.

The piece notes that there is often push back against teaching math using visual representations, especially by those who learned math in a traditional way. Yesterday’s Dish covered an article in Salon that explained the issues with several criticisms of Common Core-aligned math instruction. One of the examples of a critique that went viral stemmed from a misunderstanding of a visual counting system, which doesn’t replace the current way of writing numbers (as the parent thought), but instead acts as a guide to help students gain a deeper understanding of a math concept.

To avoid creating fixed mindsets among students about their math skills, Boaler recommends having students with mixed abilities grouped together, instead of separating students by ability and tracking them into advanced or low-performing groups. The article explains how this method worked at a math summer camp run by Boaler, where the program consisted of tasks that allowed each student to participate, was visual, and gave students space to grow in their thinking. By the end, the article notes, student scores on a test taken at the beginning of the program improved by 50 percent. In fact, administrators from the district who observed the camp were unable to tell which students were low-achieving and high-achieving in the group.

In another piece that focuses on high-achieving math students, Chalkbeat New York features an organization called Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM) that helps students from low-income families and students of color prepare for careers in science, math, engineering, and computer science. The program aids these promising young students into and through high school, college, and a career. BEAM founder and executive director Dan Zaharopol explains that at the nonprofit, “We try to be that informed and involved parent, where a lot of times — if they’re in a single-parent household and that parent works a number of jobs or doesn’t speak English — they don’t have those resources.” The article explores stories of several students in the program and the challenges they face, as well as the successes they’ve had thus far. Read more: http://ny.chalkbeat.org/2015/11/30/for-seventh-graders-with-a-spark-in-math-the-road-to-stem-careers-starts-at-camp.

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