One of the most helpful things that I’ve ever read was Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics. In that book, there is a wonderful diagram of a rope with five interwoven strands representing components of mathematical proficiency: adaptive reasoning, strategic competence, conceptual understanding, procedural fluency and productive disposition (towards mathematics).
Firmly believing that a positive disposition towards mathematics is essential for mathematical proficiency and motivation to learn, I had my students follow this prompt on the first day of (our) class: “Draw me a picture of what it looks like when you are doing math.” Here are a few of the pictures that I got.
While the students laughed and tried to make light of the pictures they drew, I don’t think that all of them drew these pictures in response to dominant cultural stereotypes about mathematics. I was in a mentally prepared to see pictures like these, but I wasn’t fully prepared to believe them. I’ve been in a funk ever since I got back from school today. My heart is totally broken.
I did follow up this activity with I call the “Two Myths of Mathematics.”
Myth #1: Some people are “good at math” and some aren’t.
Truth: With effort, anyone can be good at mathematics.
Myth #2: Mathematics is about calculating things and following procedures.
Truth: Doing mathematics involves logical reasoning, creative problem solving, collaborating with others, communicating mathematics, and much more.
My hope is that by starting the first day of class with this message, students can have a better disposition towards mathematics and more efficacious beliefs about themselves and mathematics.