Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day One of Class: Beliefs About Math

I'm starting my countdown - the first day of class is in 25 days. This is actually my first time starting out a semester as a blogger! I'm excited about all the changes I plan to make, and a little nervous. I'll be posting lots of my plans and materials here in the next few weeks, to share and to get feedback. Once the term starts, I'll rejoin the ranks of classroom teacher bloggers.

Carol Dweck's research, on how people's mindset affects their ability to learn, seems powerful to me. And I want to share it with my students in a powerful way. I thought I had seen quizzes on this, but hers only has 4 questions, that to me all sound pretty much the same. So I mixed that question in with some math belief questions. I plan to give this 'quiz' to my students on the first day of class.

I'd like a tenth question. Got any good ideas? I'd also like feedback on the other questions. This parallels my list of math myths - it's just framed a bit differently. My goal is to get students to realize that the way they've seen math up until now has been skewed, and gets in the way of learning it. I also want them to know that if they can really commit to this, they can change their relationship with math dramatically.

Beliefs About Math and Learning

This is set up as a quiz, but it won't be graded. Think of it as one of those magazine quizzes that you do for fun. After you complete this alone, we'll vote to see how many believe each statement is true versus false, then you’ll talk with your group about it.

T F 1. I'm not good at math, so I can't expect to do well.

T F 2. It’s genetic, men are better at math than women.

T F 3. Intelligence is fixed – it can’t be changed.

T F 4. Math is mostly about memorizing.

T F 5. Intuition and creativity are not useful for math.

T F 6. It’s bad to count on your fingers.

T F 7. There’s one right way to do a math problem.

T F 8. Math ability is fixed – it can’t be changed.

T F 9. To learn math, I need to focus on getting the right answer.

T F 10.


  1. How about a question (or questions) that has a true answer--a positive statement about math? I have done something similar in my classes (I also teach at a CA CC) and found that I tended to focus on my students' probable negative perceptions a little too much. It tended to turn off the few who actually thought they might like it. I realized that the students wanted me to understand how they felt about math, but didn't want me to make assumptions about it.

    BTW, found your blog while falling down the SBG blogging rabbit hole. All the SBG posts out there are very interesting reading and I am excited to try it in my calc class this fall. 24 days of summer left for me!

  2. I like Kellypactr's comment about the positive statements, even if they are false.

    How about...Any math problem can be solved with a formula.

  3. How 'bout something like "Getting the wrong answer means nothing was learned or I wasted my time" or something like that?

  4. How about:

    T/F: Hard work is more important than natural talent when it comes to mathematics.

    That is a positive statement that (hopefully) will help quell the notion that mathematicians are geniuses.

    Kellypactr: We must have crossed paths in the SBG rabbit hole—I just took the plunge myself.

  5. Ooh, I like the suggestions for positive statements.

    I was going to suggest something like "some people are just naturally good at math," which could provoke some interesting discussion about what it means to "be good"-- whether it means catching on quickly or deeply mastering the material-- and about how hard work is important regardless of whether something comes easily or not.

    I recently wrote about some studies on praise that were pretty noteworthy in that students who are used to "being smart" and being told that they're smart are actually more likely to give up quickly, choose easy problems, and cheat, because they want to keep being smart. I wonder if a statement about being good at math could open the conversation to your students who traditionally have done well, and let them know that there's always room for improvement.

    Great idea!

  6. Kellypactr, I would love to discuss calc class with you. I'll be teaching calc II this term (unless it doesn't fill).

    Thanks, all, for the ideas. I will definitely add some of these.

  7. Okay, this isn't a positive statement but perhaps it can be tweaked. What about something like, "My parents say they can't do math so neither can I". I always get frustrated when parents say this to their kids. Then it is as if they have empowered their kids to do poorly at math.

  8. Perhaps it could become neutral this way:
    Math ability is inherited.

    That gets at the 'math gene' idea from another angle.


    John Golden reworked this whole assessment pretty completely, and posted at his blog.

    I like what he did, so I'm going to re-do mine, using the comments here and what he did. More later...

  9. I'm a grad student and I believe I'll be teaching developmental math again this semester (we don't know until a few days before class starts). I think I might use this survey as well. I also use a "quiz" to familiarize my students with using the graphing calculator. We will be using a new textbook this time, so I'm thinking I might develop an activity to have them explore sections of the book.

  10. Hi Erika, Thanks for visiting. I'm wondering how much that new textbook will cost the students...


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