Noteworthy Voices 4-MIN. READ

Making Math Magical: Creating Classrooms Where Students Thrive

By: Danielle Sullivan 11/01/2022

Here are five beliefs you can embrace to help your students feel more comfortable with math.

Two students smiling as they work on math together.

What do you remember about learning math?

Fast facts. Skills and drills. Memorization. Or, it was hard.

What I don’t hear a lot of is, it was fun. I enjoyed it. Or, it made me feel empowered.

The truth is math trauma is real, and it affects a lot of us. According to The Myth Fueling Math Anxiety in EdWeek, “. . . nearly one in five U.S. adults report severe math anxiety, and the vast majority report at least some level of discomfort with the subject.”

We need to pivot and make space for math. Research on brain science and neuroplasticity tells us that every time we learn, our brains form, strengthen, or connect to a new neural pathway.

We’re all on a growth journey, and our ability to learn is not fixed! By reframing beliefs around learning math, we can create the right conditions in the classroom to help students feel validated and seen.

Try adopting these beliefs to help your students think more positively about math.

There is no math gene. 

Everyone can learn math. And you can instill a growth mindset in your classroom with the power of “yet” (e.g., “I have not learned it  yet.”) It’s important for students to understand that when they start something new, they won’t be an immediate expert. You can bolster your students’ confidence by reminding them: 

  • “I believe in every one of you. There is no math gene. I expect you all to achieve at the highest levels.” 
  • “I love mistakes. Failure and struggle are how we learn. Please make a ton of mistakes.”
  • “Let’s make connections and create new neural pathways this year.”
  • “I value working deeper, not quicker, so lets find ways to deepen our understanding together.
  • “I see you. I value you. You are important. You matter. You matter to me, this class, and this school.”
  • “I am your teacher, mentor, advisor, coach, cheerleader, and I promise to cultivate a positive classroom culture.”

Mistakes help our brains grow. 

The past two years have not been easy. Our mistakes were on display for the whole world, and we learned from them! How can we encourage more mistakes within the classroom? Try some of these activities: 

  • The “Crumpled Up Mistakes” activity: Have your students write down their mistakes on a piece of paper, crumple it up, throw it across the room, find their paper, and trace the lines on it to show how their brains and neural connections become enhanced by making mistakes. 
  • Create an “I learned . . .” or “I haven’t learned it yet . . .” bulletin board in the classroom to promote a safe space to talk about mistakes. 
  • Use the “Failure TA-DA!” method: Create a safe space to talk about mistakes and then clap to celebrate them. This helps normalize the experience of making a mistake in your classroom. 

Speed is out, flexibility is in.

For a lot of students, speed equates to trauma. Remember those timed multiplication sheets? They often evoke math anxiety.

Instead, create a space in which math can be associated with creativity, collaboration, and flexibility to grow procedural fluency through thought. Have your students think independently about a problem presented on the board without paper or devices. Then, start a discussion about how each student approached it.

This activity allows students to see how others solved the problem and creates a collaborative and creative way to engage students. It also shows how differently brains work. 

Collaboration creates social and mathematical connections.

Mathematical discourse encourages students to share ideas, clarify understanding, develop a language for expressing ideas, and construct convincing arguments. When students talk about math, they learn to see things from diverse perspectives. 

Help students create connections by using real-life applications of mathematical techniques like designing a yard or completing a number grid by using addition. This can help stretch the minds of students and create a mindset for multifaceted learning.

Perhaps you do a lot of this already in your classrooms. Perhaps some of this is new. Either way, mindsets shift, and new habits are needed to create classrooms where all students will grow and thrive mathematically!

Have math activities that have worked in your classroom?
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