The Math Mindset

By Mr. Bruce Ito, Head of Math, Senior School

Related to Ms. Corcoran’s article on growth mindset, one of our school’s foundational values, the “math mindset” follows the same principles, which are essentially to approach problems from a learner’s perspective, that is, to stay curious, to practice consistently, and to persevere through challenges.

Math is not just about numbers and calculations. Understanding math allows us to understand the world in more depth, and to be comfortable and confident discussing the economy, politics, business, career, investments, cost of living, retirement needs and daily money transactions, such as personal spending and tipping. Math and numeracy are always at the root of these issues, whether in ratios, percentages, proportions or shares.    

Math equations may be formulaic and easily memorized, but math fluency and conceptual learning, which is what enables us to really understand math, develops strategic thinking, creativity and problem-solving skills, all of which are highly valued and transferrable. 

For most students—and many adults!—the barrier to math success is rooted in perception. The perception that one is innately “bad at math” is really just a fear of appearing unintelligent. The truth is, although some people have an affinity to numbers and math, all of us need to work hard and practice regularly to gain comfort and a strong foundation with numbers. The goal, firstly, is for students to have a genuine likeness for and a good experience with math. From there, and with habitual training, knowledge will grow.

For parents, you can help your child love math by engaging in daily conversations about numbers, for example, share your hydro and cellphone statements, discuss receipts and restaurant bills, and make connections between the weather, recipes, food preparation and sports scores to numbers. Ask your children about their math classes, even if you don’t fully understand the content. Asking children to teach and explain things to you helps them work through problems and processes in their head and is one of the best ways to learn new skills. 

If students have difficulty with math, we encourage you to connect with your teacher, but take a risk and attempt the problem before approaching your teacher with questions. Rather than say, “I don’t get it!,” ask a specific question about the skill or content you’re learning. Usually it’s a matter of the teacher rephrasing the question. And make sure to collaborate with your peers and help each other. Asking questions and talking through problems solidifies learning and comprehension. Making mistakes and trying different methods are what learning is all about. It can be frustrating, but often the most challenging tasks are the most rewarding, and experiencing that “a-ha” moment is an exhilarating feeling!

The new BC curriculum, implemented for K-7 in 2016-2017 and grades 8-9 in 2017-2018, reflects the math readiness and growth mindsets: adding context and relevance to numbers and equations to achieve conceptual understanding, which can then be applied to personal, career, societal and scientific aspects. It’s not about numbers, per se, but rather how comfortable students feel using and applying numbers. 

In 2018, the BC Ministry of Education will replace the Math 10 exam with a numeracy assessment. WPGA students in grade 11 (or those grade 10 students enrolled in Pre-Calculus 11) will write this exam in January; all other grade 10 students will write in June. We look forward to helping our students prepare for the numeracy assessment, and to continuing to teach and promote the WPGA math philosophy, a reflection of our school’s growth mindset and the new BC curriculum. 
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