What is the “I’m Bad at Math” mentality?
Have you or anyone around you ever stated, “Math is just not for me!” or “I’m just not a math person”? You’ve probably heard it more than once. (You might have said it more than once).
This mentality is one that many students hold. It convinces them that they are naturally unable to comprehend or excel in mathematics. This negative mindset can harm students’ self-confidence, drive, overall math skills, and future opportunities.
One factor contributing to this mentality is the idea that math is too hard and meant only for people with an inherent talent for it. What’s more problematic is how this mindset develops early in students and affects their academic performance. Let’s look into it.
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Digging into the COVID math crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic presented obstacles to math education. It has made the “math problem” worse, as math scores fell drastically and still have not recovered following the pandemic. School closures and disruptions to traditional classroom teaching have greatly affected students’ math skills. This is supported by a range of studies and test score analysis. Here are the main challenges:
1. Learning loss and achievement gaps
The prolonged closure of schools has resulted in substantial learning loss, especially in math. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds have been disproportionately impacted, magnifying the disparities in their academic achievements.
2. Decreased standardized test scores
Standardized test scores in math have experienced a decline since the start of the pandemic. Many students have faced challenges in adjusting to remote learning and encountered difficulties in self-directed learning and accessing resources.
3. Limited engagement and practice
The transition to remote learning has resulted in fewer chances for collaborative problem-solving, hands-on activities, and immediate teacher feedback, which are crucial for developing math comprehension and skills.
4. Math anxiety has been intensified
Anxiety around the subject has increased due to the added stress and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, resulting in even more significant challenges for students in terms of their performance and confidence in math.
The math crisis has only worsened – with 2023 witnessing middle schoolers’ scores drop drastically.
To tackle this mindset, it is essential that all students get proper support and resources. It is also important to emphasize the practical relevance of math in everyday scenarios, making it easier to relate to. Promoting a growth mindset and guaranteeing equal opportunities for all students to receive high-quality math education is also crucial in changing students’ mindsets.
Fixed mindset vs. Growth mindset
What is the difference between fixed and growth mindsets?
1. Fixed mindset
A fixed mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence are fixed and cannot be improved. People with a fixed mindset see their skills and talents as innate and unchangeable. This mindset causes them to avoid challenges, feel threatened by others’ success, and fear failure. They view mistakes and setbacks as proof of their inherent limitations, making them give up easily and avoid taking risks.
Individuals with a fixed mindset prioritize showcasing their intelligence or talent rather than embracing the journey of learning and personal growth. Unfortunately, this perspective can hinder progress and limit their development, discouraging them from accepting new challenges and opportunities. Additionally, it can impede creativity, problem-solving abilities, and resilience.
To challenge a fixed mindset, it is crucial to cultivate a growth mindset, where people firmly believe that their skills and capabilities can grow through hard work, tenacity, and embracing failures as learning opportunities.
Impact on math performance
A fixed mindset regarding math can significantly affect one’s performance in the subject. When students believe their skills are fixed and cannot be improved, they might encounter various adverse effects.
People with a fixed mindset often avoid challenging problems because they fear failing and view setbacks as a sign of incompetence. They just don’t consider themselves to be a ‘math person.’ As a result, they avoid pushing themselves and tackling new math concepts or complex problems. Unfortunately, this fear and avoidance limit their chances for personal growth and improvement. They often wonder, ‘How can I improve at math?’ or ‘How can I improve my math scores?’ without looking for a solution.
Students who possess a fixed mindset tend to engage in constant comparisons with others, especially when it comes to their mathematical abilities. This ongoing comparison can cause them to feel threatened by those they perceive as more talented in math. As a result, their confidence and motivation may suffer, leading to a sense of inadequacy and a lack of motivation.
Also, having a fixed mindset can result in people believing they are not adept at math. Consequently, they tend to put minimal effort and involvement into the subject. This lack of dedication consequently inhibits their growth in acquiring the skills and comprehension necessary to excel in math.
2. Growth mindset
A growth mindset is having the conviction that skills, intelligence, and talents can be enhanced and refined through hard work, practice, and persistence. People with a growth mindset welcome challenges, see failures as chances for growth, and are motivated by the achievements of others.
Individuals with a growth mindset acknowledge that intelligence and skills are not permanent qualities but can be enhanced over time. They believe that through dedication, strategic approaches, and embracing the opportunity to learn from errors, they can continuously improve and achieve their objectives.
A growth mindset promotes resilience, a passion for learning, and self-confidence. It empowers people to overcome obstacles, venture outside their comfort zones, and achieve their maximum potential. Adopting a growth mindset can result in personal and academic development, heightened motivation, and a positive attitude toward challenges and possibilities.
Impact on math performance
A growth mindset in math enables individuals to enhance their skills and become better at the subject. When students believe their abilities can be developed through hard work and practice, they are more inclined to take on challenges, persevere in the face of setbacks, and actively seek opportunities to expand their knowledge. They embrace a positive attitude and ask themselves, ‘How do I get better at math?’ rather than accepting defeat.
A growth mindset allows individuals to approach math with wonder and receptiveness. Instead of viewing mistakes as failure indicators, they regard them as valuable learning opportunities. They recognize that understanding intricate math concepts requires time and diligence and are willing to invest the effort to deepen their comprehension. They will slowly believe that they can become a ‘math person’ and excel in the subject.
When students embrace a growth mindset, they are more inclined to utilize proactive learning approaches, such as reaching out for support from educators or classmates, maintaining a consistent practice routine, and employing efficient study methods. Through this intentional practice, coupled with their belief in their own potential for growth, they can make substantial progress in their math journey as time goes on.
Example of a fixed vs. growth mindset
Caroline finds math difficult, exceptionally long division.
Fixed mindset: “I struggle with long division. I’ll never be able to get it.”
Growth mindset: “Long division is challenging, but I know it will become easier with practice.”
Students need to reflect on tasks that were once difficult but have become more accessible. When it comes to academic subjects, students must be encouraged to focus on the effort put into the work rather than just their success. By actively helping them focus on their mindset, teachers and parents can collaborate to help them recognize their progress.
The “I’m bad at math” myth and its consequences
As we’ve discussed, this phrase is often used. But students should change their mindsets!
You might not know this, but many historically-celebrated geniuses were bad at math! Thomas Edison, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and celebrated figures struggled with math. But they overcame this and achieved excellence!
It is essential to recognize that math skills and knowledge are not only determined by innate talent. Rather, math is a skill that can be cultivated through consistent effort, practice, and effective learning techniques.
To overcome this myth, it is essential to adopt a growth mindset, accept that you can learn math, and understand that hard work and determination are essential for success. This means actively seeking assistance when you need it, practicing deliberately, and viewing mistakes as valuable learning experiences. By challenging this self-limiting belief, individuals can unlock their true potential in mathematics and gain more confidence and skill in the subject.
It’s possible to improve!
Imposing limitations on oneself in terms of math ability can significantly hinder an individual’s learning and personal development in the subject. The implications of these limitations can have lasting and damaging effects
1. Limited opportunities for academic and career advancement
A solid math foundation is vital for success in various academic areas and professional domains. Limiting one’s math skills can impede one’s chances of excelling in one’s studies and future career paths. This may discourage them from pursuing math-related majors or professions that demand solid mathematical abilities, ultimately constraining their potential for personal and professional development.
2. Reduced motivation and engagement
If someone believes they are naturally bad at math, it can cause them to lose motivation and become disinterested in the subject. This can lead to a lack of enthusiasm for learning, avoiding math-related tasks, and hesitating to push themselves. Consequently, they may miss chances to improve their math skills and gain a deeper understanding of the subject.
3. Reinforcing a fixed mindset
Placing restrictions on oneself only reinforces a mindset that believes math skills are fixed and cannot be enhanced. This fixed mindset hinders progress, learning, and overcoming challenges.
4. Self-esteem and confidence issues
Consistently believing that one is not skilled in math can erode self-esteem and confidence, fostering negative self-perceptions and preventing them from taking risks or tackling challenges. This can significantly impact various areas of life, extending beyond just mathematics.
Additionally, individuals can overcome these self-imposed limitations simply by adopting a growth mindset and genuinely believing that their efforts will pay off.
How to develop a growth mindset in math
1. Deconstructing the myth: Everyone can learn math
The idea that not everyone can learn math is simply not accurate. Math is a subject that can be mastered by anyone with the right mindset and approach. It’s not about being naturally talented or having innate abilities. Instead, it’s about putting in effort, practicing regularly, and using effective learning strategies. By adopting a growth mindset, believing in one’s ability to learn, and reaching out for help when needed, anyone can overcome obstacles and succeed in math. With patience, resolve, and a positive attitude, everyone has the potential to develop their math skills and excel in this subject.
2. Emphasizing effort over innate ability
To succeed in math, prioritizing effort is critical. For example, instead of relying solely on natural ability, practice regularly and adopt effective learning methods. Anyone can excel in math with persistent effort and a growth mindset. Natural ability doesn’t determine aptitude; consistent effort and a willingness to learn can lead to significant development. By emphasizing the importance of effort, individuals are empowered to embrace challenges, overcome obstacles, and gain confidence in their math skills. A learning approach that values effort fosters a positive outlook, enabling everyone to unlock their true potential and succeed in this field.
3. The role of supportive teachers and parents
Supportive educators and caregivers are essential in fostering students’ positive attitudes toward mathematics.
Teachers and parents play a crucial role in helping students understand how math can be applied and used in the real world. They can accomplish this by demonstrating how concepts apply to everyday scenarios or other areas of study, making them more relevant to students’ lives.
Educators who showcase their enthusiasm and passion for mathematics have the power to ignite a genuine love for the subject in students. Their contagious excitement can inspire students to actively participate in meaningful mathematical experiences. Educators can cater to different learning preferences and interests by utilizing a range of teaching approaches. This can enhance student engagement and connection to the subject, cultivating a passion for mathematics.
Furthermore, creating a positive learning environment involves the collaborative efforts of teachers and parents to establish a secure and motivating space for students to explore the subject. This entails cultivating a growth mindset and emphasizing the effort exerted rather than solely focusing on the final outcome.
It’s also essential for educators to celebrate students’ accomplishments, whether small or significant. This can elevate their confidence and enthusiasm. Educators can achieve this by offering verbal commendation, presenting certificates, or employing alternative recognition methods.
Lastly, teachers and parents should lend their support and guidance to students facing difficulties in math. By helping them tackle obstacles and offering the necessary assistance, they can encourage perseverance and foster a positive outlook on math.
4. Incorporating math practice into daily activities
Including math practice in everyday tasks is an excellent method to reinforce mathematical principles and make learning more practical and pleasurable. Below are a few suggestions:
- Shopping – Get kids to budget, calculate discounts, and estimate total costs during shopping trips.
- Games – Participate in various forms of entertainment that involve strategic thinking, number crunching, or problem-solving, such as board games, card games, or puzzles.
- Financial literacy – Encourage children to monitor their spending, calculate their savings, and compare prices to develop essential budgeting skills.
- Help out in the kitchen – Incorporate children in the cooking process to help them learn about measuring ingredients, comprehending fractions, and calculating cooking times.
- Yard work – Engage children in gardening by incorporating activities such as measuring distances, calculating amounts of soil or water, and keeping track of plant growth.
Children can enhance their understanding of math and realize its importance in their daily lives by incorporating math practice into routine activities and making them fun!
The big picture
To sum up, the notion that someone is naturally not good at math is baseless. Anyone can improve their skills with the right support, attitude, and resources.
To develop a growth mindset, students can see mistakes as chances to learn, ask for help when necessary, and embrace challenges as they progress toward achievement. With encouragement from teachers and parents, students can move away from their fixed mindsets.
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