Two students jumping up and down on a blackboard with math problems

How we created a growth mindset in math

When standardized test scores revealed students’ lack of number sense, one district examined its instructional practices and set out to explore a strategy-based approach to teaching number sense

Historically, students have been led to believe that they are either destined to be good at math or that they just “aren’t a math person.” At Springfield (MO) Public Schools, we wanted all of our students to feel empowered as mathematicians. Through Jo Boaler’s research, we were able to identify key changes that needed to take place in order for that to happen in our district.

Our approach to teaching mathematics began as a journey toward equity in math class. We began focusing on conceptual understanding, strategy-based fluency through number talks and open tasks that support multiple entry points and solutions. In the past, much of our math instruction was focused on procedural rules that didn’t allow students to build flexibility with numbers. Despite the constant focus on fact retrieval, teachers continued to note that students didn’t have mastery of basic facts year after year, and it showed in our standardized test scores. We began offering professional development around strategy-based fact practice and eradicated time testing from our classrooms.

Related: How our district is making math relevant

Last year we implemented a workshop model to support the need for differentiating instruction in K-5 classrooms. We modified that structure this year to include whole-group problem-solving days, in which educators facilitated productive struggle and the class worked heterogeneously and dived deeply into problems that were more inquiry- or visual-based.

Turning math class into a conversation

One of our district components for math workshops was a numerate environment. There was a misconception that a numerate environment was the visibility of math tools, literature, and anchor charts. Our vision for a numerate environment was one that fosters a classroom full of collaboration and discourse. We wanted to hear students actively sharing ideas, thinking deeply about mistakes, and connecting their ideas and strategies to those of others.

We looked for structures that promoted these goals and math talks was a natural fit. In her book Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, Boaler writes that opening up the conversation around math is the single best way to increase number sense.

Last year, we offered professional development to teachers through after school workshops, in service days, and summer learning opportunities. We purchased Number Talks by Sherry Parrish for our teachers and facilitated learning about number strings by having teachers engage in math talks as students.

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