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Six Key Takeaways from A Day with Professor Jo Boaler

Posted 08 May 2019 12:51pm

Claudelands Event Centre was buzzing on April 24th, with 520 motivated mathematics educators who were eagerly awaiting Professor Jo Boaler and youcubed co-director Cathy Williams to deliver their new workshop Limitless: The 6 keys that unlock potential and transform pathways.

Jo and Cathy were engaging and inspiring, and offered very practical ideas for teachers to use in their mathematics teaching. These ideas are not only applicable to mathematics, and may be implemented across all learning areas.

If you weren’t lucky enough to attend on the day - or if you were and would like a refresher - here are six key takeaways from Jo.

1. Brain Growth and Change

Brains can grow, adapt and change. This means there is no such thing as a ‘mathematics person’ - all students can learn mathematics. New neuro-pathways can be created when students develop a growth mindset and approach to learning.

2. Mindset

A growth mindset is key to how students see and engage with the world around them. This is particularly true for mathematics. Teachers encourage and model a growth mindset by:

  • considering the language you use
  • normalising mistakes
  • encouraging students to believe in themselves
  • reassuring students that they can learn anything
  • reminding students that the more they work, the smarter they will get
  • praising students for what they have done and learned, eg.
    • “I like the way you persevered with that problem!”
    • “It is great that you have learned that!”

3. Struggle and Mistakes

Our best learning takes place when we struggle with the mathematics. Making mistakes is also key as it accelerates learning by pushing students to the edge of understanding. Give messages to students that it is important to struggle and make mistakes as this is what enables our brains to grow and create those new neuro-pathways.

  • Value mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • When students experience learning wobbles their brains are being stretched.
  • The Learning Pit by James Nottingham is excellent way of supporting students to understand struggle.

4. Engage with Content with a Lens of Multiplicity

Tasks and learning experiences that allow for original thinking enable students to view, develop, use and make sense of mathematics. Select tasks that ensure students will engage with the mathematics in a variety of ways, including the use of equipment, talking about their learning and justifying their solutions. Considerations for task selection should include:

  • identifying the big ideas of mathematics
  • ensuring mathematics problems have multiple methods and more than one possible solution rather than single methods and fixed answers
  • making mathematics problems visual and creative.

5. Creative Flexible Thinking

Creative, flexible thinkers are more likely to engage with numbers flexibly and use number sense to help them solve problems. When students have creative, flexible thinking they are able to demonstrate multiple representations of their understanding. It is important to remember:

  • speed is the enemy - avoid an emphasis on speed and timed tasks
  • students should be able to think deeply, make connections, reason and justify their solutions,
  • encourage students to  ask questions of each other: how do you see it/ how do you think about it?
  • students need to express their understanding in different ways, an example is to use a Think Board.

6. Connections and Collaboration

Collaborate with others on ideas, and engage in a process of sharing ideas, making conjectures and proving them. Memories are strongest and best when they access knowledge that is built in different parts of the brain, connected, rich and multi-dimensional. It helps our brains to think of mathematics visually, not just in numbers. This can include:

  • problem solving using flexible grouping strategies, such as multi-level groups
  • using the Five Talk Moves
  • encouraging students to tap into prior learning/knowledge
  • creating visual representations of solutions to problem solving

Another key message…

Fingers are very important to the learning of mathematics. Jo shared that neuroscientists have concluded that:

  • fingers should be the link between numerical quantities and their visual representation
  • fingers should be the physical support for learning arithmetic (number) problems
  • schools should have a greater focus on finger discrimination (usage).