Mindsets for Understanding Mindsets, Dept.

I first heard the word “mindset” in a human behavior course when I was a junior in college and it was one of those words that I thought explained everything.  In the intervening years, I’ve seen that the word is indeed used to explain just about everything–most recently of course is the use of it in terms of “growth mindsets”.  I recently saw this in a newsletter from U of Michigan’s ed school at their Flint campus:

Leading the program are experienced professional math educators with doctoral degrees who will teach proven, research-based strategies that graduate students can use in their classrooms to help young children develop mathematical mindsets that build on the basics. Coursework also deeply examines topics in early childhood and elementary mathematics, such as numeracy, matching, patterns, spatial relationships, additive reasoning, geometry, multiplicative reasoning, and fractions.

Program leaders point out that math teaching and learning strategies have modernized away from the tedious memorization techniques and high-pressure, timed assignments that restrict opportunities for students to learn from their mistakes and to conceptualize math problems in visual and other ways.

“Research shows that when children have an opportunity to learn from their math mistakes, they develop a growth mindset,” said UM-Flint education assistant professor Elizabeth Cunningham. “Being able to make sense of number combinations in flexible ways and to approach numbers in visual ways helps to erase some of the fear that comes with learning math.”

First of all, it’s good that these instructors have doctoral degrees; lends more credibility to the statements that follow–particularly since they will teach “research-based” strategies.  I’m glad that they are looking to help children develop mathematical mindsets that build on the basics.  I just hope they teach the basics upon which such mindsets can be built.

I have my doubts that this is happening when I read that we are “modernizing” away from “tedious” memorization techniques and “high-pressure” timed assignments.  Apparently these restrict opportunities for students to learn from their mistakes.

The passage makes it sound as if in the past, traditionally-based math was never taught by making sense of number combinations in ways other than simply memorizing the facts, or that it neglects visual approaches.  Of course, the trend now is to rely more than ever on the sense-making, visual approaches to the detriment of any kind of memorization.

I’m also curious about what research they are alluding to when they say “research shows” but I think I can guess.

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One thought on “Mindsets for Understanding Mindsets, Dept.

  1. “Research shows that when children have an opportunity to learn from their math mistakes, they develop a growth mindset,”

    Homework!

    However, in modern Everyday (“trust the spiral”) Math, there is no feedback loop. You move along and get the same material year-after-year in the hope that repeatedly being thrown into the deep end of the pool will help you learn from your mistakes. It’s repeated partial learning. Traditional math (and current math in most high schools) use proper textbooks and push for learning from your mistakes. Modern fuzzy K-6 math does no such thing. They just assume that you are not ready yet. Meanwhile, the academic gap increases with parents and tutors who focus on skills. Success and understanding follow skills. Success breeds a mindset, not the other way around. Reality is the exact opposite of the educator newsletter comments above.

    “Research shows” that you can recast reality to mean whatever you want – kind of like anti-math. These tidbits must come from self-described “thought leaders.”

    Like

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