An education in STEM subjects, at school and beyond, offers our boys the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills that will prepare them for the future workforce. From these subjects’ boys gain the capacity and confidence to be informed consumers and make decisions on complex issues that have impact on their lives. Engaging with STEM opportunities helps develop critical thinking, problem solving, analytic capabilities, imagination and curiosity, all identified critical skills required to meet the demands of the 21st century.
Mathematics helps prepare students with the knowledge, skills and confidence to participate effectively in the community and aids the development of these 21st century skills. For this reason, our boys need a strong foundation in Mathematics.
Add to this the need for our boys to be numerate citizens who can use mathematics to help make sound judgments and informed decisions in everyday situations. This includes working, shopping, following medical instructions, making decisions about financial matters, or understanding the implications of something like, say, gambling.
Some of the many challenges we face educating boys in maths and numeracy include how we can encourage them to see their world through mathematical lenses and to use their mathematical knowledge to deal with work and other life challenges.
So, what will it take to increase our boys’ experience dealing with real-world situations and problems involving mathematics?
One barrier many of our boys have is a fixed mindset about mathematics. How often have you heard your son say, “I just can’t do maths”, ‘I am not a mathematical kind of person’, or words to this effect. Our challenge as teachers and parents is to overcome this barrier, to encourage students to have self-belief and the idea that everyone can learn even the most complex of mathematical procedures, if they are prepared to persevere. Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity.
‘In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success – without effort. They’re wrong. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.’ (Carol Dweck)
Promoting growth mindset and effort in mathematics classrooms
When maths becomes difficult, boys with a fixed mindset often struggle, or give up. In some cases, these boys are reluctant to try because they do not think they can improve their learning. In other cases, some boys can think that making an effort implies that they are not smart, and that effort makes them look ‘dumb’. In contrast, boys with a growth mindset believe that with effort they can improve their learning over time. When faced with a challenge, or indeed when failing a task, students with a growth mindset increase their effort to improve and complete the task successfully.
‘Positive people view failure as an opportunity to learn and get better.
There is now considerable evidence that mindsets can be changed and furthermore that a growth mindset in students is linked to higher school achievement. The key is to create the conditions that promote a growth mindset, and better student learning.
Persistence = Improvement
Growth Mindset is an approach to teaching mathematics which believes that mindset is more important than initial ability in determining the progress made by students in their mathematical understanding. Boys with a growth mindset will make better progress than boys with a fixed mindset. I am sure we can all think of occasions when we thought things were too hard however, through perseverance and hard work, we continued until we improved and achieved success. Persistence is a quality we should be encouraging in our boys. As parents and teachers, we need to provide a positive environment, modelling by example and not imposing on them one’s own negative experiences with mathematics. We should consider how we model or not model positive associations to mathematics.
Dweck, a psychologist who has completed decades of research on changing one’s mindset to increase achievement and success says that the ‘Power of Yet’ is a powerful strategy and suggests that we should not regard an incorrect answer in maths as a failure but rather as a ‘we’re not there yet.’ point in time. This TEDTalk offers an interesting insight into the strategy:
As the boys continue their mathematics journey I would encourage them to consider how they could adapt a growth mindset to increase motivation, productivity and positive outcomes. Use the suggestions below to alter your frame of mind from a negative outlook to a positive one.
Head of Mathematics – Senior School