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  • Writer's pictureCarrie S. Cutler

We need a shift from thinking one must be born good at it to succeed in math. Math is for everyone!

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

As the mom of a large family (I have 8 kids!), I spend a lot of time pushing grocery carts. When I ran into a friend at the store recently, she asked how my semester teaching Elementary Math Methods was going. I beamed while telling her how much I love teaching teachers how to teach math. She listened politely but bristled, “I was never any good at math, and when my kids need help with their math homework, I just about pull my hair out.” She continued for several minutes detailing the horrors of sitting across the kitchen table from a struggling child and feeling like a struggling parent. I offered a few words of encouragement, but the conversation left me wondering: Could other parents feel as frustrated and confused?

Curious, I asked my social media friends to share their experiences helping their children with math homework. I got dozens of responses—almost all negative—such as:

• Today I reviewed one of my son’s math tests and literally felt my right eye twitching and my heart racing. Anxiety does not begin to describe it!

• I freaking hate math!

• I am not exaggerating when I say that my brain shuts off where math homework is involved. Right now, my twin girls are only in kindergarten, so I can handle helping them, but I am horrified to think that I will have to assist in stuff I don’t understand. Guess I better save my money for a tutor.

Wow, I didn’t realize that so many of my friends have what Dr. Carol Dweck would call a fixed mindset about math. A mindset, according to Dweck (2006), is a self-perception people hold about malleability and their brain’s ability to grow and build intelligence. Putting the academic mumbo jumbo aside, a mindset is what you think about your thinking—if you believe you can improve your thinking and make it better. Simply put, a person may hold either a growth or a fixed mindset, believing they are “intelligent” or “unintelligent,” “good at math” or “bad at math.”

But why does this matter? Aren’t we all just born good or bad at math? Nope. Research from Dweck and others (e.g., Boaler 2013; Yeager and Dweck 2012) shows that what we believe about our mathematics potential profoundly affects what we learn. If we have a math-positive mindset, we believe that hard work and effort, not natural talent alone, are what lead to mathematics achievement. We believe that struggling in math is a good thing, because struggling means we are trying to understand, not just trying to get by. We believe that mistakes in math create real space for learning and growing the brain.

My blog is dedicated to helping teachers, parents, caregivers, school leaders, and kids develop math-positive mindsets. So, come along on our adventure from math-panicked to math-positive! You're part of the journey!

I'll share teaching tips that keep elementary math joyful, the latest research about learning mathematics with understanding, homework survival suggestions, and much more. Plus, you'll hear stories about my kids--all 8 of 'em (and my beautiful daughter-in-law)! Welcome!

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