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The Mathematics of Hope: Moving from Performance to Learning in Mathematics Classrooms

Jo Boaler

In 2006 a trade book appeared on bookshelves that would ultimately have one of the biggest impacts of any research volume ever published in education. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Carol Dweck summarized key findings from her research on the nature and impact of mindsets. The book quickly became a New York Times best-seller and was translated into more than twenty languages. Dweck’s decades of research with subjects of various ages showed that students with a “growth mindset”—who believe that intelligence and “smartness” can be learned—go onto higher levels of achievement, engagement, and persistence. The implications of this mindset are profound, especially for students of mathematics. Mathematics, more than any other subject, has the power to crush students’ confidence (Boaler 2009). The reasons are related both to the teaching methods that prevail in U.S. math classrooms and the fixed ideas about mathematics held by the majority of the U.S. population and passed on to our children from birth. One of the most damaging mathematics myths propagated in classrooms and homes is that math is a gift, that some people are naturally good at math and some are not (Boaler 2013a, 2013b). This idea is strangely cherished in the Western world but virtually absent in Eastern countries such as China and Japan that top the world in mathematics achievement (PISA 2012). 

 

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