Disposition towards mathematics / Two myths about mathematics

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.

A very typical self-depiction of disposition towards math in my class.
This was a very typical picture. Most of the pictures were of sad, frustrated or confused faces.
This student had the most positive disposition towards math in the class.
This student had the most positive disposition towards math in the class.

This boy's drawing is interesting in that it shows him cheating in math class.
This boy's drawing is interesting in that it shows him cheating in math class.

Another representative drawing: notice the boy's work shows an "F" on it.
Another representative drawing: notice the table has "F...K math" written on it (with the K crossed out); it's probably not "F" as in the grade "F" as I originally thought.

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.


I went to school again today to sit in a classroom with no students. I’ve been told that my classes have been scheduled but they probably aren’t populated with students yet. Meanwhile, my colleagues are struggling with 50, 60+ students in their rooms with not enough chairs for everyone. Sigh…

At least I found time to work on syllabi for my classes.

The syllabi I wrote are similar to the ones that I’m used to writing, except that I included sections on class rules and expectations. I was told that students don’t really read them so it’s better not to put lots of words on the syllabus; just give the important details (no electronics allowed, percentages of homework/tests/other as part of the total grade, late homework policy, etc). I did include some very general learning objectives, however (be able to communicate mathematics fluently, become more self-motivated to learn mathematics, etc).

I met a RSP (resource specialist program) teacher today who will be teaming up with me in one of my sections of geometry to support the needs of six (?) students with disabilities of one form or another. I’m looking forward to that.

My first day of class! (sort of)

Live from RCHS, it’s Period 4!!

I don’t know what class I’m supposed to teach right now, but it doesn’t matter as I don’t have any students right now. (That is why I am able to write this blog post right now.)

I did have two students come to my Period 3 geometry class. That was exciting. My first students! Since we didn’t have enough students to really start class, I posed some problems to them that we worked on as a group (problems involving cell phone pricing plans, shapes, patterns). They both seemed to have fun and I’m glad that as one was leaving, she said that she was going to like her math class this year. (She showed me her Screen Actors Guild membership card–perhaps she’ll be famous one day.)