Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How to Learn Math #1

This week I jumped into a MOOC out of Stanford entitled, How to Learn Math. 

The premise for this course began out of a course that was offered to students last year that helped students overcome their anxiety about math and to develop appreciation for the study of math.  The professor, researcher, author, Jo Boaler, decided to offer the course to parents and teachers  to provide background on why students struggle in math and to help adults find ways to “powerfully impact students’ learning experiences.”

I took the course because last year I met way too many students in grade 9 totally turned off to math!

A few key facts …
  •     50% of college students are in 2-year schools, only 1/10 of those students complete the required math courses
  •     Stories abound of students disconnected in their math class
  •     Still there is a pervasive belief that girls don’t do well in math
  •     Racial stereotyping is alive and well in math classes
  •     Studies show that students excel when teachers express their belief in them

Assigned reading this first week included Paul Lockhart’s: A Mathematician’s Lament.  I read just the first five pages and was totally captivated!  Lockhart says, “By concentrating on what, and leaving out why, mathematics is reduced to an empty shell.  The art is not in the “truth” but in the explanation, the argument. It is the argument itself which gives the truth its context, and determines what is really being said and meant. Mathematics is the art of explanation. If you deny students the opportunity to engage in this activity— to pose their own problems, make their own conjectures and discoveries, to be wrong, to be creatively frustrated, to have an inspiration, and to cobble together their own explanations and proofs—you deny them mathematics itself.”

The challenge from the first session is to create an activity to let students know how much you support their goals, to help them connect in math class.  How do you build connections in the first days of math class?  How do students know you care?  Why do students love to come to your class???

I have a first day questionnaire to gather information and feelings from students. Check it out here .  

On our first day, I plan to ask students to make a list of 2 - 3 things they like about math; and 2 - 3 things they don't like.  Students will crumple up that paper and we will have a short snowball fight.  Then students will pick up a random snowball as we return to our seats ... and we'll share aloud the items, one at a time.  I'll make a list on chart paper.  My goal is that we'll see that we share many of the same concerns.  

If you have feedback, please share!


  1. OH MY GOSH! I have been wondering what to do on my first day and here it is! Thank you for sharing the article. I opened it up with the intentions of reading it later but found myself sucked in to it and shared it with my math district lead.

    Thank you so much!
    Lessons With Coffee

    1. Hi Jameson - Glad you found the post and article helpful. On my very first day with students I want to do the activity I described and I want to do math. I'm trying to decide if I want to do the stations I created (see this post ) or if I want to do a 3-act like the pennies pyramid with students.

      I have TAG algebra 2 students this year (9th graders) and preap students (10th graders).

  2. Great overview and like your idea of a snowball fight in September! Over on my blog I'm sharing some ideas and activities regarding mindset and attribution retraining.

    Not sure if any of them are a good fit with your students. Take care!

    1. Your ideas are perfect! I can't wait to mull them over and choose one or two to put into action.

      As I skimmed through my Mindset book this afternoon, I scribbled a few phrases in the back - thinking they will be motivational posters. I can't wait to draw them up!