Rethinking Math Culture

Three ways to get students to choose math over broccoli

According to a 2012 Raytheon survey, 56 percent of students would rather eat broccoli than do math homework. While adding some cheddar to the mix might make both options more palatable, my guess is broccoli would still come out ahead. This prevailing distaste for math is a real problem. Student confidence is down. Teacher frustration levels are up. Broccoli futures are stagnant.

All joking aside, our kids need to embrace math. Their future (and ours) depends on it. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs are on the rise. They account for over 50 percent of economic expansion in the U.S. The fact is, some 60 percent of new jobs created this century will be in STEM-related fields, and they’ll rely heavily on math skills.

So , where are we? Math achievement in the US has been consistently low for decades, with only 40 percent of students in Grade 4 and only 33 percent of students in Grade 8 performing at a Proficient or Advanced level as measured by the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. The remaining 60 percent of Grade 4 students and 67 percent of Grade 8 students fell into the Basic and Below Basic categories. That means we’ve got our work cut out for us.

In the recent live webcast now available on demand, DreamBox curriculum manager David Woods talked about what educators can do to help cultivate a deep connection to–and real love for—mathematics. Starting in the classroom, here are three of David’s ideas for reframing math and fostering a positive mindset:

  1. Invest time up front getting to know your students’ strengths, weaknesses, talents, interests, and styles. Woods likens the teacher’s role at the start of a new school year to that of a coach at the beginning of a new season. Every student, like every player, brings something different to the table. You have to take a few weeks to assess your team, see what you have to work with, and figure out a game plan that leverages each participant’s unique strengths, weaknesses, talents and more.
  2. Combat affective filters. The term “affective filters” refers to those invisible, psychological filters that either aid or detract from the process of learning. In this case, we want to empower students to be risk takers and not be afraid to fail.
  3. Celebrate a diverse collection of historical figures and anecdotes that involve mathematicians. In other words, get in touch with your inner Millie Dresselhaus. You may be familiar with the recent television ad campaign by General Electric in which the narrator poses the question, ‘what if we treated female scientists as celebrities?’ In the ad, little girls play with Millie Dresselhaus dolls and parents name their newborn girls after the physicist and National Medal of Science winner. That’s sort of what Woods is getting at here. Students need to see people similar to them as mathematicians, so they can envision their own potential. Albert Einstein is great, but let’s introduce some relatable modern-day mathematicians into the mix too.

To learn more about how to break the cycle of math anxiety and help students build the skillsets they’ll need to compete in STEM-related fields, watch the 60-minute recorded session, Rethinking Math Culture: Proven Ways to Develop a School-Wide Math Mindset.

Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Lee

Jenny Lee is a passionate product marketer at DreamBox Learning. A lifetime learner, Jenny is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business. In her free time, she enjoys outdoors adventures with her dog Allie, and chasing creative whims through visual art.
Jennifer Lee

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