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Mathitude: How to measure and encourage a math mindset

When you picture a “math person,” what do you imagine? Is it gray haired, male with a portly belly, spectacles, sweater vest, and khakis? Maybe he’s balding instead of gray haired? That’s how I used to picture a math person. And I think it would be safe to bet that many of my students imagine this as well (I will find out on the first day of school). For so many students, they have been told, implicitly or explicitly, that math isn’t for them. My question is why? We don’t tell students that reading isn’t for them, or writing, or science-ing, or history-ing. Why do we allow students to opt out of math? We see students that hold their breath and tense their bodies anytime someone says, “math” and we respond with, “It’s ok, maybe you are just not a math person.” We give students permission to opt out.

Well, I am done giving permission for students to opt out of mathing. If you can be a reader and a writer, then you can be a mather (a phrase coined by Deborah Peart). My job as a math teacher is more than teaching the required standards, using district resources, and preparing students for their end of course exam. My job also includes helping students develop their confidence, providing opportunities to work collaboratively, exposing students to a variety of tools in applying mathematics to the world, providing lots of opportunities for students to listen, read, and write about mathematics, and expanding their thinking tool box in ways they view themselves and their community.

This year I am taking inspiration from Jo Boaler and transforming my first day of math class to be less about telling students what math class is going to be like, and more about understanding my students’ mathematical mindsets.

… And I am a Mather

I used this activity for the first time last year and absolutely loved it. This activity, originally titled, And I Am a Mathematician, taken from Jo Boaler’s website explores the different labels and communities we associate with. In the original activity, students will use pictures or words on their poster to describe who they are and all of the communities in which they identify. They also must include the phrase, “and I am a mathematician,” because in this class, we are all mathematicians. Once collected, the teacher displays the posters into a quilt-like pattern in the classroom and everyone can see all of the communities they are apart of with the common thread of also being a mathematician.

After listening to a podcast with Deborah Peart as a guest, I am going to make a slight adjustment to this activity. Instead of including the phrase, “And I am a Mathematician” we are going to include the phrase, “And I am a Mather.” The word “mathematician” gives a connotation of the person I described above - someone who who studies math for the sake of studying math, while, “mather” has a much broader and inclusive connotation of someone who uses math to make sense of the world. I really feel like my students can buy into being a mather more than a mathematician. I love this activity because I get to see how my students see themselves and they also realize that doing math means you are a mather, just like reading makes you a reader, and writing makes you a writer. I also get some sweet displays for my classroom out of it.

Student Profile

There is always some basic information I need to know about my students when they walk into my classroom. Things like do they have internet access at home, who they live with, and their learning preferences. What I also want to know about my students is their math history. When did they feel really confident about math? When did they feel like math was the biggest waste of time? So, like the math teacher I am, they graph it. I cannot wait to share my math journey with my students and have some amazing conversations with them about the ups and downs with math.


Find this resources HERE

Vibe Check & Math Inventory

Attitudes and moods affect learning. If your mind and body is reacting to negative or intrusive thoughts, it is much harder for the brain to take in and hold on to new stimuli. However, labeling our feelings and releasing them can help us get back on track to take in new information. My vibe checks aim to do that and have an added bonus of providing insight into students’ attitudes and beliefs about math.

I created a beginning, middle and end of year Vibe Check and Math Inventory to track how students’ beliefs and attitudes have changed about math. In this interactive Google Slides activity students will use drag and drop and write about their beliefs about math. Students will write letters to themselves, to math, and their math teacher. The prompts allow for students to tell their stories, reflect on their goals, and give me insight into what is going on in their life. I cannot wait to try this out!

Find this resource HERE

I love getting to know my new students and I cannot wait to use all of these activities in my classroom this year.


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