## THE MYTH: SOME PEOPLE ARE “MATH PEOPLE” AND

## SOME PEOPLE ARE NOT

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If you have been around education for any amount of time, it’s likely that you have heard someone say “I’m just not a math person.” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. I’m here to tell you that this is just.not.the.case! Everyone has the ability to learn and understand math.

Growing up, I always loved math and I knew
I was a “math person.” My mother was a
“math person” (a math teacher to be exact) and she convinced me I was a “math
person” too. I have loved math for as
long as I can remember and I am confident my math roots started at home. But is it possible, that is was that math-nurturing
environment that made me open to math, and not a different style of brain?

You see, the myth goes something like this
. . . You have a math brain or you don’t.
You are born with it or you’re not. You’re either right-brained or
left-brained. A math brained (aka
left-brained) person usually thinks more analytically and in more orderly
fashion. Left-brained people are usually
categorized as objective, analytical and good at math. However, the right-brained person is seen as
more artistic, creative, emotional and had a higher propensity for language (oh
yeah – and NOT very good at math)!

**“Ever wondered where this right-brained/left-brained thing came from? I’ll share what I found out at the end of the post.”**

What about you? Did you grow up thinking you were “math
person” or “not a math person”? Everyone I asked could answer this question and
they knew exactly what I was talking about.

Recently, a Stanford University math
professor, Jo Boaler, and author of

__Mathematical Mindsets__, shared that new brain research shows that EVERYONE, with the right teaching and messages, can be successful in math. Yes, there is a small part of the population with a mathematical learning disability, but studies show this is only around 5% of the population. You can read more about her research here.
When I read this conclusion from Dr.
Boaler, my brain did a little dance. It
was something that I knew inside me to be true, and something I desperately
wanted my students to believe and live out.
You see, even at a young age, some of my students already believe they
are “not math people” and I want to be part of changing that.

### So what do we do now?

Well, in the 1990’s a study was done with kindergarten students. This study found that any student, even those
most at risk for failing in math, could be at the top of their class as long as
it was taught in a way that gives the child the opportunity to understand
it.

That means its up to us – the
teachers. It’s time to expand our
knowledge base and teaching methods.
It’s time for us to teach that although math may have one answer, there
are many ways to get there. It’s time
for us to teach our students the different ways to see, think about and do
math.

I know what you are thinking – who’s got
time for that? Well, I challenge you to
think of it differently. For the sake of
our kids, who doesn’t have time for that?

A great starting point is Dr. Jo Boaler’s book

__Mathematical Mindsets__. She does so much of the laborious work for us. She’s done the research and clearly lays out the best mathematical tasks we should be teaching our students. Just as children’s language and vocabulary abilities grow based on the experiences they have, so do their math abilities. Dr. Boaler believes that the brains 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.” Math is about a mindset, and we as teachers can start modeling a positive math mindset to our students.**1. Building a Strong Number Sense**

The foundation of all math skills is number sense, and we must build
a strong sense of the value and relationship of numbers in our students. Students need to “do” math – they need many
opportunities to think through problems and solve problems. It is this thinking part of math that helps
students make the connections between numbers.
Sure there is a time and place for memorization (can you say math facts)
but . . . if students don’t understand the concepts behind what they are
memorizing they are never going to truly understand math.

**2. Make Problem Solving a Priority**

We also need to provide students with a variety of approaches for
problem-solving. Every student will have
a different light bulb moment – and it’s our job as teachers to reword, reteach,
or find a new way to model the problem-solving process to help each student
have that ‘aha’ moment.

**3. Student-Centered Learning**

In many subjects, we have seen a shift to more student-centered
learning. Teachers have stepped back
from lecturing and taken on the role of guiding students through the thinking
process of their learning. I dare say it
is time we take this approach in math too.
Sure, there are some rules or formulas students must learn, but once
that is done, let them do the explaining, answering questions, and problem-solving. We are always there to guide
and correct misconceptions, but sometimes it’s the explanation of a fellow
student that helps more than what we can say.

**4. Help Math Connect to the Lives of Our Students**

Math should always be taught in context to something our students
can relate to. Studies have shown that
any learning happens faster when a connection to real life is made. Especially for younger students, connecting
the abstract concepts of math to concrete examples is an important part of learning foundational math skills.

**5. Start With the Concrete**

Our primary aged students start with manipulatives as they learn a
new skill. It’s a lot easier to see the
process of addition when you take 2 blocks and 3 blocks and push them together
to see a new group of 5 blocks. This helps
our students so much more than just memorizing 2+3=5. As students learn the concrete they have more
success moving into the abstract because they can make that brain connection. Allowing students to talk about, write about
and draw math is a great first step!

In the next few weeks, I am going to show you an in-depth look into my
classroom and our math block. I’m going
to show you what I consider to be best practices, and my attempts at
implementing them. I’m going to do my
very best to give you practical, easy to implement ideas for your
classroom. Until then – I want to
challenge you to do this one thing – talk about math in a positive way in your
classroom and around your students. Find
math in your everyday activities and celebrate it. Start laying the foundation of making math a
wonderful thing!

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####
**P.S.**

Side Note – but so worth that rabbit trail! I started wondering about this left brained/right brained thing and did a little digging. It appears that this idea began in the 1950’s and 1960’s and was based on the research of Nobel Peace Prize winner Roger Sperry. You see, his research showed that the brain did in fact have different hemispheres and that different functions happened in different locations of the brain. But, brain researcher Jeffery Anderson from the University of Utah concludes that while "[i]t is certainly the case that some people have more methodical, logical cognitive styles, and others more uninhibited, spontaneous styles, this has nothing to do on any level with the different functions of the [brain's] left and right hemisphere. Separating the brain's two halves into “logical” and “emotional” hemispheres appears to be a function of pop psychology, not science. 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. You can read more about Dr. Anderson’s research here.

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