This past weekend, I attended the California Math Council’s annual conference at Asilomar, near Monterey. This is the 12th time I’ve attended, and although I’ve spoken there a few times in the past, this year I just went and attended talks. This was an unusual year in that I got to see five session speakers and two keynote speakers, and all seven were great and meaningful talks.
The keynote speaker yesterday was Dr. Jo Boaler, a professor of Math Education at Stanford University and one of the great researchers of how students learn mathematics. She is really on top of the most current brain research, which goes along with the philosophy that I’ve always had…that there’s no such thing as “math people” and “non-math people”. Everyone has the ability to learn mathematics, right up to and through calculus, given the right environment, support, structure, and most importantly, mindset. As she pointed out in her talk, there is a striking difference between students who have a “fixed” mindset about their learning as opposed to those who have a “growth” mindset. Students with a “fixed” mindset believe that they are either a math person or not a math person, and that if they make a mistake, it is because they are bad at math. Those students end up eventually limiting their potential due to this mindset. On the other hand, students with a “growth” mindset believe that mistakes are opportunities for learning, and those students embrace their errors and continue to grow their mind (figuratively and literally, the brain actually grows when someone makes a mistake).
What are YOUR thoughts on math and the brain? What are your experiences?