Recently, I discovered that Jo Boaler was running a great series of free lessons called Week of Inspiration Math (WiM), through Stanford. I’m kicking myself, as I had no idea of this program and it’s already in it’s second year!
The purpose of WiM is to provide lessons and videos to teachers on how to encourage students to approach mathematics through a growth mindset. In North America, there is a strange mentality that “being bad at math” is a badge of honour. I don’t believe this phenomenon exists as extensively in other parts of the world, but it’s definitely an issue that teachers have to deal with in the classroom (and even amongst their colleagues).
Having already taught the idea of growth mindset and fixed mindset to my students – even running a teaching workshop in October 2015 – I thought that this would be a great way to expand on my existing lessons*. Plus, the kids who are repeating my course won’t want to do the same thing from last year!
Anyway, yesterday, we played “Four 4s”. The idea of the game is to use four number 4s to make equations that make up all the numbers from 1 to 20. Initially, I was doubtful that they’d get into it; most of my students can be shy and afraid to try new things. However, given that they have a very strong and trusting relationship with me already, they are usually game for anything!**
I decided not to use the term growth mindset that day. Instead, I framed it around the idea of “sandbox style thinking”. The purpose is to get them not to look for a quick fix or a formula when approaching a problem.
I asked them, how do you play in a sandbox? Are there any instructions? Are you given explicit descriptions of what to do and what not to do? Not at all! Often, we just play and fool around until we figure out something that works for us. I mean, wouldn’t it sound silly if I had to tell you how to build play with sand?
The buy-in was great. Both the Grade 10s and 11s ate it up. I encouraged risk-taking by using Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces***, specifically whiteboards. Students were able to try an equation out, test it in their calculator and share their responses. I encouraged them to discuss and check each other’s answers and engagement in the room was extremely high.
In the end, the Grade 10s actually beat out the 11s; they were able to find 16 solutions out of 20!
*My workshop and class lessons are based of off Sarah Hagan’s lessons from her Math Equals Love blog.
**It’s actually quite funny when visitors come and they completely shut down and go tacit. I didn’t realize how much of their confidence is built around me until I saw this happen multiple times. It’s not necessarily healthy but I’m trying to encourage them to engage with the outside world without doing too much handholding.
***More info on VNPS through Slam Dunk Math.