# Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math

## Book Preface

One of my former Stanford students teaches fourth grade in the South

Bronx, an area of New York City with many underserved,

underachieving minority students. Her students invariably believe

they are bad at math, and if you looked at their past performance, you

might be tempted to think so too. And yet, after one year in her class,

her fourth graders became the #1 fourth-grade class in the state of

New York: 100% of them passed the state math test, with 90% of them

earning the top score. And this is just one of many examples of how all

students can learn math.

When people think that some kids just can’t do math, that success in

math is reserved for only certain kids, thought of as “smart,” or that it’s

just too late for kids who haven’t had the right background, then they

can easily accept that many students fail math and hate math. In fact,

we have found that many teachers actually console their students by

telling them not to worry about doing poorly in math because not

everyone can excel in it. These adult enablers—parents and teachers

alike—allow kids to give up on math before they’ve barely gotten

started. No wonder more than a few students simply dismiss their own

poor performance by declaring: “I’m not a math person.”

Where do parents, teachers, and students get the idea that math is just

for some people? New research shows that this idea is deeply

embedded in the field of mathematics. Researchers polled scholars (at

American universities) in a range of disciplines. They asked them how

much they thought that success in their field depended on fixed,

innate ability that cannot be taught, as opposed to hard work,

dedication, and learning. Of all the STEM fields (science, technology,

engineering, and math), math scholars were the most extreme in

emphasizing fixed, innate ability (Leslie, Cimpian, Meyer, & Freeland,

2015). Other researchers are finding that many math instructors begin

their courses by referring to students who have the aptitude and those

who do not. One college instructor, on the first day of an introductory

college course, was heard to say, “If it’s not easy for you, you don’t

belong here” (Murphy, Garcia, & Zirkel, in prep). If this message is

passed down from generation to generation, no wonder students are

afraid of math. And no wonder they conclude they’re not math people

when it doesn’t come easily.

But when we begin to see evidence that most students (and maybe

almost all students) are capable of excelling in and enjoying math, as the following chapters show, it is no longer acceptable that so many

students fail math and hate math. So what can we do to make math

learning happen for all students? How can we help teachers and

children believe that math ability can be developed, and then show

teachers how to teach math in a way that brings this belief to life?

That’s what this book is about.

In this unique and wonderful book, Jo Boaler distills her years of

experience and her powerful wisdom to show teachers exactly how to

present math work, structure math problems, guide students through

them, and give feedback in a way that helps students toward a “growth

mindset” and keeps them there. Boaler is one of those rare and

remarkable educators who not only know the secret of great teaching

but also know how to give that gift to others. Thousands of teachers

have learned from her, and here’s what they say:

“Throughout my schooling years …I was left feeling stupid and

incapable of doing [math] …I cannot tell you the relief I now have

that I can learn math myself, and I can teach students that they

can too.”

“[You have] helped me think about the transition to common core

and how to help my students develop a love and curiosity for

math.”

“I was searching for a process of learning math that would change

the attitude of students from dislike to enjoy …this was the

change I needed.”

Imagine your students joyfully immersed in really hard math

problems. Imagine them begging to have their mistakes discussed in

front of the class. Imagine them saying, “I am a math person!” This

utopian vision is happening in classrooms around the world, and as

you follow the advice in this book, you may well see it happening in

your classroom too.

Carol Dweck

Professor of psychology and author of

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

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