Welcome back! For the past six weeks, I have been reading and participating in a collaborative book study focused on the book Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler. Chapter 5 described tasks that encourage mathematical engagement and create excitement for students. (Read Chapter 5’s post here.) Chapter 6 discusses the inequities inherent in many higher-level mathematics programs and ways to make mathematics accessible for all students.

**Chapter 6 Summary**

In this chapter, Jo Boaler describes the inequities that are present in the study of mathematics. She debunks the idea that some people in our society possess a “mathematical intelligence” and instead attributes their success to hard work. She states, “when we have gifted programs in schools we tell students that some of the students are genetically different; this message is not only very damaging but also incorrect” (p. 94). In addition, Jo Boaler stresses that many of the students who have been identified as “gifted” are just fast with their math facts. This label is potentially damaging to both students with and without the label because students who are labeled as “gifted” have a fixed mindset about their abilities and are less likely to take risks in the subject matter. In addition, those students who are not labeled as “gifted” may give up on mathematics because it does not come as easily to them as others and because society encourages them to believe that mathematical giftedness is synonymous with efficiency. The chapter goes on to describe school programs where students have been illegally “tracked” and encouraged or discouraged to take higher-level mathematics based on their background, gender, or ethnicity. The chapter ends with a list of strategies that can be used to create equity in mathematics and make it more accessible for all students.

**My Big Takeaway**

This chapter really struck a nerve for me in many ways. On the one hand, I was a student who did well in math and was encouraged to take higher-level mathematics courses. As a woman of color, however, I was deeply disturbed by the stories of how other girls and minorities were not as supported as I was in my school-age years. So, my takeaway is about how the messages that we send to students, either subtle or overt, affect students’ opinions of themselves and their math abilities. I can think of a few instances where my words may have discouraged a student who did not interpret my sarcasm in the way that I intended, as a challenge, and not an admonishment. (Note to Self- Sarcasm is never okay!) Since I no longer work in a classroom with my own students, thinking about this now makes me want to encourage the teachers with whom I work to consider how the messages they send, either verbal or non-verbal, will affect the outcome of their students’ futures.

**Ways to Use this New Knowledge to Support Our Students in the Classroom**

I would like to share some ways we can make mathematics more equitable for students using the strategies below. These examples are based on the ideas presented by Jo Boaler in the chapter.

**Offer access of high-level mathematics to all students.**For example, I used menu math as filler work for my students, meaning that when they completed their work, they would “fill” their time with a menu task. I purposefully created menu tasks that were challenging and would take some time to complete. I included a variety of entry points so that all students had the option to complete the tasks on a level that was appropriate for their own abilities. See an example here and read more about how to create menus here.**Help students develop a growth mindset about mathematics**to change the “status quo” about who is able to be successful mathematicians. Pinterest is full of ideas! Check out my Growth Mindsets board here.**Offer opportunities for students to “think deeply about mathematics”**using hands-on learning experiences, real-life applications, project-based curriculum, and cooperative learning activities instead of solely focusing on procedural mathematics.**Employ cooperative learning structures.**Allowing students to work together allows them to make connections and see mathematics in a way that they may not have seen it if they worked alone. Encouraging students to give positive feedback during this time is a way to increase the success of the collaboration.**Provide opportunities for girls and students of color to learn more math and science.**One of the ways that I have been able to do this is through the use of robotics. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend a summer program at The University of Texas at Austin where I learned how to program and build with the robotic Lego parts. In turn, I was able to, with the help of an assigned robotics mentor, teach my students how to program and build. Through these activities, I made connections to science and language arts by having students build representations of inventions that would either help society deal with an environmental issue or help a character in a book solve problems. For example, we read Dear Mr. Henshaw one school year and my students were tasked with creating a contraption that Leigh, the main character, could use to stop the classroom thief from stealing his lunch. We also did fun stuff too, like making carnival rides and golf holes. My girls loved robotics just as much as, and even more so sometimes, than the boys. See some of my students’ work in the pictures below.**Modify the way homework is assigned.**Many students do not have access to technology or parents to support them with homework at home, so completing homework can be stressful. One way that I have tried to eliminate this issue is to assign homework that is a review of material previously taught. This way, students feel more comfortable completing the homework without resources at home. In addition, I like to assign homework on Friday or Monday to be due on the next Friday so that students have an entire week to complete the work on their own schedule and come-in for tutorials with me if needed. My philosophy is that homework is for practice and it’s unfair to assign practice for a skill students just learned.

Our students need mathematics to successful graduate from high school and most college degree programs. We, as teachers, need to do our best to eliminate the barriers and mindsets that deny access to many of our students so that they can find and experience success.

**Sound Off!**How can we make higher level mathematics thinking and coursework accessible to all students?

**References:**

- Boaler, J. (2016).
*Mathematical Mindsets*. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Lorraine G. says

Oh my goodness, those problem-solving robots are incredible!!! I can’t wait to incorporate that idea! I also love the math menus….thanks for sharing! Such a great strategy for making homework more engaging and purposeful. I can’t wait to create some for my class. I enjoyed reading your post, thank you for sharing!!

shametriaroutt@gmail.com says

Thank you! Robotics was the highlight of my year! It’s nice to get to move away from our everyday routine to bring in a program like that. So glad that you found the menus useful! There are a lot of resources available to help you create them.

Kathie Yonemura says

I love those robots, too! And I agree, the messages we send (implicitly or explicitly is so important!) Thanks for a great post, Shametria!