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math mindset

Math Mindset: 3 Tips to Build Positive Math Mindset

We all come into the math classroom with a certain math mindset. The definition of a “mindset” is the established set of attitude by someone. Some people enter feeling defeated and powerless in math, while others are motivated and inspired.

As teachers it is our job to make sure our students develop a mindset in math that is productive. This is no easy feat. It requires planning, creativity, and our own positive mindset for math.

In this blog post you’ll read about my 3 top tips for helping students form positive mindsets for math. We will consider the structure our classroom community, lesson designs, and our relationships to help build positive math mindsets.

Tip #1: Consider your own Math Mindset

Teachers set the tone for the classroom.
You are 100% normal if you feel like you aren’t a math person or math just isn’t your thing. Let’s face it we were taught in a system that failed to help us see the beauty and artistry in math. Instead, we were taught that if you weren’t fast at the procedures then you just weren’t cut out for math.

I spent my entire life (until 5 years into my teaching career) convinced I wasn’t a math person. I would deliver the math lessons from the curriculum and watch the clock just counting the minutes until it was over. Then, I discovered that math is not about procedures and speed… and my mindset changed.

I discovered a style of teaching that allowed students to be in the driver seat- where they did the thinking and explaining. I listened and crafted the questions and set the conditions for students to discover a deep conceptual understanding. This style of teaching is based in the research found in Cognitively Guided Instruction. It is my passion and I would love to share more with you… more to come on that!

A Teacher’s Math Story…

I encourage you to spend time thinking about your math story. Even write it down or share it with a colleague.

Here are some prompts to consider:

  • What are your memories of elementary math?
  • How did your early experiences with math form your high school and college experiences?
  • When did math feel good? When did it feel bad?
  • What helped you learn math?

Knowing your own math journey and how your mindset for math was formed will help you develop a classroom that ensures students can fall in love with math.

Tip #2: Real Life Math Role Models Build Positive Mindset for Math

African American Women Mathematicians

Math is everywhere in the real world. Students need to see the people who do math everyday in the real world. Often when we ask our students what does a mathematician look like they have no idea. We want them to see themselves. We want them to see people that look like them- women, Latino, Black, gay, disabled, and so much more. Everyone needs a role model.

African American Women Mathematicians

I want students to see ALL the math people that have come before them so they can actually see themselves as the math person they are. In order to do that, they must have models that look like them. It is my goal to show my students the greats that have come before them that achieved brilliance in the math field.

Every single one of our students already is a math person. SAY IT AGAIN!
Every single one of our students already is a math person.
So, let’s create the classroom where each child see themselves and people that look like them as math people!

These posters make the perfect display for your classroom. This is a growing bundle, grab it right here on TPT!

My students and I use these biographies* to start our conversations about what it means in the real world to be a mathematician. Their mindset shifts from “I don’t need math” to “Wow, if she can maybe I can?” or “Wait, building rockets is math?”

*These biographies are designed for 4th-8th graders. However, there are also primary biographies and graphic organizers designed for 1st-3rd graders.

Tip #3: Lessons to Build Math Mindset

Reflect on Math Mindsets

Teacher Reflection:

What does a 3rd grade mathematician look like at the end of the year? (Insert the grade you teach).
What do you want these little ones to be able to do?
What will their mindset for math be at the end of the year?

Take sometime to think about this. I encourage you to write down 5 things you want your mathematicians to be by the end of the school year.

By considering what you want the end product to look like, sound like, be like, you’ll be able to develop a classroom culture to foster the necessary learning.

Student Reflection:

Survey to Assess Math Mindset

At the start of the year I use this math survey to build my understanding of each student’s math history and mindset. I write more about how I use the survey in this post.

math mindset
If you’d like to try this survey grab it from my
little shop right here!

What is a mathematician?

Ask your students to consider what a Mathematician is. Have each student create a web or a list of all the things they think a mathematician can do.
I like to contextualize this for the grade I am teaching- so “What can a 3rd grade mathematician do?”

Having a positive mindset toward math is all about dispelling the lies that we hold about math. Like… speed is important or there is only one correct way to solve a problem. When we help our students develop a full description of a mathematician’s qualities we help our students see they already have many qualities of a mathematician.

math mindset
What is a mathematician? A resource to help students develop a math mindset.

In this activity above, I ask students to make a web of what a mathematician is to them. They start by adding phrases and words. Then they keep this in their math folder and we add to it.

  • When we work in groups to solve a challenging problem we get out our definitions and add “work in groups”.
  • When we see a pattern that makes a problem type easier to solve we get out our webs and add “finds patterns”.
  • When we work on a problem over multiple days that is hard to solve, we add “persevere”.

This is ongoing formation and revision of our definition of a mathematicians demonstrates to students that our mindset is ever changing.

If you’re interested in trying this activity with your students grab it from my little shop on TPT along with detailed lesson plans for only $2.

Make a display to Build Math Mindset

Math Teaches Us To…

If you’re like me, you like EASY & cute bulletin boards and displays. I created this “MATH Teaches us to…” display for my door. It was a huge hit with students, staff, and families. This display started lots of important conversations. I love this type of open ended display because it leaves room for us to build our definition together. It actually turned into something we added to for months.

I’d love to gift this beauty to you. Drop your name and email address here to download your free copy!

math mindset

Math Affirmations to build a Growth Mindset

math growth mindset

I use these affirmation posters to build my students math mindset. I usually create a space in the room where I hang them all. Then, we will refer to them through out the year in different ways. We use them to reflect, goal set, etc. Read more about how I use them here. You can also grab the math affirmations I use in my classroom from my little shop on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Math Norms Display to build Math Mindset

I think my math norms are one of the best ways I build a math growth mindset with my students. I believe these phrases to my core. I use them to frame every single conversation we have in our classroom.

If you don’t have norms, I encourage you to consider adding them to your classroom. Not sure where to start? Start right here!

math norms to build growth mindset

Did you get what you need?

If you’re looking for more a help with building your ideal math classroom culture and helping students develop a growth mindset in math… I CAN HELP! I have my favorite 10 ways to develop classroom culture in math that I would love to share with you. Leave your name and email address here & I’ll email it to you!

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Hi, I'm Mona!

I help 1st – 5th grade teachers like you develop a classroom that lays the foundation for engaging and rigorous student led math instruction.

Learn more about me and how I can help you here. 

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