Nurturing Math Mindsets

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Recent research reveals that through effort and hard work, and with a positive math mindset, you can improve your math abilities. It’s common in our culture to believe that you are either born with the ability to do math, or you’re not. We hear people say all the time, “I’m not good at math” or “I can’t learn math.” But research shows definitively that this isn’t true. Aside from specific disabilities, no one is born with more of a “math brain” than someone else. Differences in mathematics learning can be attributed to the experiences that you have had in life that have helped build the brain connections that allow you to think about complex math problems.

Many people may feel that they can’t ever get better at math. They may say, “Oh, I’m not a math person” but this really reflects a fixed mindset around math. Early childhood educators and families can nurture children’s mathematical mindsets and help foster a love of learning by focusing on giving children positive math experiences and encouraging children through challenging activities. All children can succeed in mathematics given strong instruction and a positive attitude toward learning.

“We want all children to have can-do attitudes about math. Because if they think they don’t have a ‘math brain’, they may easily give up and not invest time and effort in learning math.”


Read article

This blog post shows us 5 ways to help preschoolers persist in mathematics and features a video of one of our teachers talking about the importance of promoting persistence!

“You can grow your intelligence: New research shows the brain can be developed like a muscle” (2014). Mindset Works.
This short article introduces brain research that reveals through effort and hard work, you can improve your intelligence.

Watch Videos

Khan Academy, Growing Your Mind, 3 minute video
This video succinctly describes the brain research about how your brain grows the most when you struggle and work hard, not when you do something that is easy for you. This video can also be watched with elementary and middle school students to introduce the concept of Growth Mindset.

Jo Boaler (Stanford Professor of Mathematics Learning)
This is a short (5 minute) clip showing new brain evidence that all students can learn math to high levels. This video can also be watched with elementary and middle school students.

Classroom Connection

Fantastic Elastic Brain

What does your brain do and can you make it grow and get stronger? In kid-friendly language, this picture book explains that your brain controls everything you do and that learning new things strengthens your brain and helps it grow. When you learn something new, your brain stretches and grows. Part of learning new things is being wrong and making mistakes and figuring out how to solve the problem the next time (or after 100 tries). Read Your Fantastic Elastic Brain with your class. Have a discussion about the role of effort and trying challenging activities to grow your brain.


Grow Your Brain!

Science confirms that our brain grows when we challenge it. This mindset mini-book shows Levi challenging himself by trying a harder puzzle. His teacher encourages him by saying: “It’s okay if you make a mistake. In fact, we learn more from mistakes because mistakes challenge our brain. Just like a muscle, when you challenge your brain and exercise it, it gets stronger and smarter.” At the end of the book, children draw a picture of a time that they tried something new that was hard for them.