Differentiated Math Fact Practice

Making Ten

4th Grade Resources

4th Grade Resources

Debunking the Big Myth About Math

The Myth:

Some are "math people" and some are not.

 You have probably heard people ask this question growing up and even as an adult: Are you a math person or are you not a math person?  Sadly, I even hear teachers saying that they are not math people.                                            This makes me very, very sad!
I always grew up thinking that I was a math person.  My mother was a math person.  She had an advanced degree in math—taught math at all levels—and convinced me that I was a math person as well.  I’ve loved math since I could remember, so it was pretty easy to convince me that I was a math person.  But, ....what if my mom convinced me that I was a math person—so I was?  My siblings weren’t math people—so what did THAT mean?
The myth goes like this: You are a “math person” or a “non-math person.”  You are either “born with it” or “you are not.” Perhaps you have heard this myth?  The myth usually went hand in hand with the thought that you were either a left-brained or right-brained person.  If you were left-brained you supposedly looked at things in a more orderly way—you were objective, analytical, AND were good at math.  If you were right-brained, you were artistically inclined, more emotional, more creative, AND……probably not very good at math.  Think about it…did you consider yourself a math person or a non-math person?  I think most of us had this mindset, didn’t we?

This is a myth!

Jo Boaler is a professor of mathematics at Stanford University and has authored seven books and many articles.  She speaks and tweets about math all the time.  I follow her on Twitter, @joboaler.  She is pretty much a math superstar in my mind!  In her book Mathematical Mindsets, she says that “New evidence from brain research tells us that everyone, with the right teaching and messages, can be successful in math, and everyone can achieve at the highest levels in school” (Boaler, 2016).  There may be a few people who have a specialized learning disability when it comes to math, but this is probably only about 5% of the population. 
Why have we bought into this myth? Where does it come from?  The BBC article “What does a scientist say about right/left brain tests” says that it seems to stem from the Nobel Prize-winning research of Roger Sperry which showed that different sections of the brain have different functions.  Now, this was way back in the 1950s and 60s, and it has stuck with us this whole time!  In the BBC article Jeffrey Anderson, a brain researcher at the University of Utah, says that "It is certainly the case that some people have more methodical, logical cognitive styles, and others more uninhibited, spontaneous styles," but "This has nothing to do on any level with the different functions of the [brain's] left and right hemisphere" (BBC, 2016).

SO… “separating the brain's two halves into “logical” and “emotional” hemispheres appears to be a function of pop psychology, not science.” (BBC, 2016).  “The pop-culture idea (creative vs. logical traits) has no support in the neuroscience community and flies in the face of decades of research about brain organization” (Anderson in BBC, 2016).

In his 2013 article, 8 Common myths about early math learning (in Honor of Math Awareness Month, April 2013) Connell challenges this myth.   He says that “this misconception is both false and damaging.  Cognitive scientists working in public school classrooms demonstrated back as early as the 1990’s that they could take virtually any kindergarten child – even those most at risk for failing in math – and reliably put them at the top of the class” (Connell, 2013).  “They demonstrated, in short, that every child has the potential to succeed in math…as long as we teach it in a way that gives every child a chance to understand it.”

Jo Boaler’s book Mathematical Mindsets synthesizes a great deal of the current research centered on the brain’s growth and plasticity and what are the “very best mathematics tasks that students should be working on to experience the best brain growth” (Boaler, 2016, p. 4).
She says that “there is no such thing as a “math brain” or a “math gift”, as many still believe (p. 5).  “Scientists now know that any brain differences present at birth are eclipsed by the learning experiences we have from birth onward”. (Wexler) She says, “No one is born knowing math, and no one is born lacking the ability to learn math” (p.5).
What she says is that “Any brain difference children are born with are nowhere near as important as the brain growth experiences they have throughout life.” (Boaler, 2016, p.4).  She believes that the brains growth and its ability to be successful in math has more to do with a person’s “approach to life, the messages they receive about their potential, and the opportunities they have to learn” (Boaler, 2016, p. 5).  Math ability is about mindset, not whether you are a “math person” or a “non-math person!”.

SO....what does this mean for you in the classroom?

Students need to learn math in a different way than has been done in the past!  They need to have a strong sense of the value and relationships of numbers.  In short, they need number sense!

How do we teach number sense?

Students need to "do" math.  They need many opportunities to solve problems and THINK, not just perform computational activities.  Students also benefit from a variety of approaches to problem-solving. We now know that we should provide students with many ways to access math learning through a context that students can personally relate to.  Boaler (2016) believes that the brain’s growth and its ability to be successful in math has more to do with a person’s “approach to life, the messages they receive about their potential, and the opportunities they have to learn” (Boaler, 2016, p. 5).  Through exploration in class discussions, in writing, and through small group collaboration students should also reflect on their learning.  It is this reflection of students that strengthens problem-solving abilities.  

Speaking of problem-solving...

Problem-solving should be taught in steps. Beginning with the concrete and moving through the representational and finally to abstract.  First-grade students need lots of practice with concrete problem-solving. It should begin with blocks and various manipulatives and then to pictures and more abstract concepts like writing about math.  Math should also always be taught in a context that they can relate to and understand.

My Math block contains several components:

Number of the Day
Large Group Learning
Small-Group Learning and Intervention 
Independent Practice

All of these components point to developing early number sense in our young learners.  My intent is to give you a look at these components through a series of Blogposts.

Independent practice consists of students working at a place of choice while I or a teacher's assistant walk around monitoring students' progress and taking anecdotal notes.  More on anecdotal notes here.  Independent practice should never be left completely to the students.  For beginning problem-solving in first grade, my Mega Math Practice 1.OA.1 units guide students from the concrete to the abstract during their practice.  There are eleven kinds of word problem types.  All problem-solving types should be introduced in first grade so that the language will become familiar as they move toward higher numbers.  Learn more about the eleven types of problems here.

Mega Math Practice 1.OA.1: Problem-Solving is a great way to introduce and practice all eleven types of word problem types.  It includes lot of practice in different forms: 

Picture Models 

Combining Pictures with Simple Equations.

Telling and Writing about math.

Using a ten frame.

  Beginning Modeling.

I hope that you enjoyed this post.  Watch for more cool stuff to come from Mrs. Balius's Math Class.  Sign-up so you don't miss any more great tips and freebies from Mrs. Balius.

Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical mindsets: Unleashing students' potential through creative math, inspiring messages and innovative teachingSan Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Carey, B. (2014). How we learn: The surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens. New York, NY: Random House.
Carey, G. (n.d.). Debunking brain myths. Retrieved from http://www.scoop.it/t/debunking-brain-myth.
Connell, M. (2013, April 10). 8 Common myths about early math learning (in honor of math awareness month, April 2013).  Native brain: The future is learning [Blog post] Retrieved from http://www.nativebrain.com/2013/04/8-common-myths-about-early-math-  learning-in-honor-of-math-awareness-month-april-2013/.
BBC Trending (2016, February 27).  What does a scientist think of right brain/left brain tests.  BBC.  [Blog post]  Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-35640368

Ziganshina, D. (2017, December 27).  Roger Sperry’s Split Brain Experiments (1959–1968) The embryo project encyclopedia. [Blog post] Retrieved from https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/roger-sperrys-split-brain-experiments-1959-1968

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