I often hear curious things about myself when people who are not especially familiar with me find out I have a background in Mathematics.  I hear about right brained people, I am almost always called “smart”, I have been pitied for not understanding art or being creative, but what bothers me the most is the assumption that I have never struggled in Math.  Let me tell you a secret – I was not always great in math.  In fact to this day Arithmetic is one of my worst subjects, but I am getting better at it as I have learned some excellent strategies over the years.  I was THE LAST person in my 3rd grade class to pass off all my multiplication tables.  The summer after my 4th grade year, my dad made me do a workbook about fractions because I didn’t understand them at all.  My 7th grade math teacher made me feel small and stupid in math class on a regular basis.  I hated math.  My parents pushed me, and had more faith in me than I did, and helped me along until I was a Senior in High School.  Then it all changed for ME.  I changed inside, and discovered something that had always been there – Mathematics was my talent. My math teacher Mrs. Lowe started me down a path I honestly never thought I would travel.  She believed in me, and taught me about how flexible, creative, fascinating, and fun Mathematics is.  I used to see math as a rigid set of rules, laws, algorithms, theorems, and symbols – often meaningless.  But I was wrong.

How do most people including students see mathematics?

“Most students think of mathematics as a series of answers-answers to questions that nobody has asked.”

“Students spend thousands of hours in classrooms learning sets of procedures and rules that they will never use, in their lives or their work.”

“…students often see mathematics as a dead subject – hundreds of methods and procedures to memorize that they will never use, hundreds of answers to questions that they never asked.”   (Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler)

How do mathematicians see mathematics?

“Mathematics exists throughout nature, art, and the world, yet most school students have not heard of the golden ratio and do not see mathematics as the study of patterns. When we do not show the breadth of mathematics to students, we deny them the chance to experience the wonder of mathematics.”

“When we look at mathematics in the world and mathematics used by mathematicians, we see a creative, visual, connected, and living subject.”    (Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler)

As you are teaching mathematics, I hope you can find and pass on the flexibility and fun that exists in Mathematics.  If you are having trouble finding it, I would love to help you.  

My first challenge for you is to try to speak only in positives about Mathematics.  Rather than saying, “We have to do math.”, how about we try to say, “We get to do math now.” or “It’s Math time!!”  When a student says, “I am not good at math.”, encourage them to say, “I am working on improving my Math skills.”

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