Math 3-6

Math Mindset

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How Math Mindset connects to...

Math Mindset includes learners' self-concept and self-efficacy beliefs as well as their mindset toward failure that shape their willingness to get involved with mathematics. The beliefs that students have about themselves as a math person and their ability to do math often have a cyclical relationship with achievement (e.g., previous academic achievement fosters particular beliefs which in turn predict future achievement). Student attitudes and beliefs can be shaped by their Math Learning Environment and experiences with mathematics.

Main Ideas

Math Mindset includes students' beliefs about their own ability and about the meaning of struggle and effort with regard to mathematics.

  • Self-concept: A student with high math self-concept is someone for whom math is central to their self and perhaps views themselves as a "math person". As students go through schooling, they begin defining what domains of study are central to them in part by their academic experience but also based upon their social environment (e.g., stereotypes about who should be good at math).
  • Self-efficacy: Self-efficacy includes one's confidence and belief in their ability to complete a task. A learner with high self-efficacy retains the belief that they are capable of shaping the environment and their own academic outcomes.
  • Attitude toward errors: Students' attitudes toward making errors and whether they believe mistakes can be helpful in improving can affect their learning process. Many students view failure and having to put in effort on a task as a sign that you lack math ability (i.e., "fixed mindset") while others view failure and effort as useful and necessary for learning (i.e., "growth mindset").

Children with better Math Mindsets are more likely to persist, for example, re-working challenging problems and discarding incorrect strategies. These positive attitudes toward figuring math out are beneficial for learning and making connections across concepts. However, beliefs about the self and math are not always based in truth: girls' performance in math is similar to boys, yet they often express lower confidence and more negative attitudes around math compared to boys. This "confidence gap" emerges during middle school. Because students are actively interpreting educational events in their lives (e.g., a challenging math activity, a low grade in math class, a comment by a parent), it is important for teachers and parents to help students understand what leads people to become efficacious in mathematics.

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