Mathematical Mindsets Chapter Two

The Power of Mistakes and Struggle

Welcome to Week Two of our Mathematical Mindsets book study!

The title of this chapter immediately had me hooked, because who hasn’t made mistakes in math class, right?! I remember being embarrassed by my mistakes in elementary school, and I was afraid to share my answers for fear of having done the problem wrong. As a teacher, I work hard to make sure I instill confidence in my students, letting them know it’s okay to make mistakes. This chapter has definitely armed me with some research to back that idea. Even better, it shows that mistakes are actually GREAT for learning!!! What could be better than that?

Dr. Boaler shares current brain research that speaks volumes to the power of mistakes. Every time we (or our students) make a mistake, whether we realize we’ve made one or not, our brain sparks and grows. Our brain actually grows MORE when we make a mistake than when we get an immediate correct answer. Revisiting our mindset ideas from last week, brain studies show that this electrical spark and growth is even greater in people who have a growth mindset about their mistakes, versus those with a fixed mindset. So, growth mindset = growth in our brains!

What was my big takeaway from Chapter Two?

Stop making math about correct answers!! As mentioned above, I encourage mistakes as part of the learning process and try to make my students feel comfortable about their mistakes. I am totally guilty, however, of drawing the smiley-face 100% on math tests and praising those high scores. This chapter made me revisit my philosophy on math test scores. It’s inspired me to cheer for the mistakes rather than the correct answers, and constantly remind students that it is our mistakes that grow our brains! One quote that continues to jump out at me is on page 13:

My goal is to review my math curriculum (which is very much a “correct answer, all or nothing” type of program) and plan for ways to shift into a mistake-centered math class. I feel like the CCSS Mathematical Practices and positive class discussions around mistakes can definitely help with this, and I’m excited to see how it transforms the mathematical mindsets in my classroom!

3 tips to implement:


Design and teach an activity that reframes mistakes and their value. Explicitly teach kids that mistakes are what grow our brains. Dr. Boaler shares a few on pages 15 -17, and Pinterest is filled with a plethora of Growth Mindset teaching ideas.


Use the “favorite mistakes” teaching strategy from page 17. Highlight your “favorite mistakes” from student work as a discussion point for the class. Make this such a common practice that students aren’t embarrassed to have their mistakes highlighted, but are proud that their brain is growing! Keep in mind that the mistakes should be conceptual, not numerical, so that the process is discussed, not the calculations.


Give challenging work that provokes deeper thought processes, invites mistakes, and allows for discussion. Don’t give “easy to answer, easy to get right” questions. Challenges grow our brains, so bring ‘em on!!

I am so hooked already, and am already brimming with excitement to change up my math class this year! I can’t wait to keep reading and discussing with you all. Let’s keep the discussion going in the comments below, and hop on through the blog links to read other great insights from chapter two.
See you next Thursday for Chapter 3!

Mathematical Mindsets Chapter 1

Happy Thursday teacher friends! I am so excited to be linking up with some other fabulous educators to dig into Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler. You’d think now that I’m done with my masters, I’d run in the opposite direction of teaching texts, but I love being a lifelong learner and finding ways to continue improving my teaching. It’s also liberating to read freely with no deadlines or papers!! J
I hope you’ll continue to join us by reading along and sharing your thoughts in the comment section below. We'll be reading a chapter a week (very doable for summer learning!) if you’d like to follow along with us!

Chapter One - The Brain and Mathematics Learning

Chapter one focused on the ways in which our brain can GROW, and how we can use this knowledge to re-frame our teaching, especially when teaching mathematics. There’s a common misconception that some students will just never be able to "get" higher level math concepts. I myself struggled to believe I was good at math, and never went past Algebra 2 in high school.

Dr. Boaler shares some great insights on how incorporating the idea of growth mindsets to how we (and our students) approach math can make a HUGE difference in achievement. Recent research shows that our brains can actually change and grow, even over short periods of time!

So how do we, as teachers, structure our math sessions to help our students’ brains GROW and their math confidence to follow?  Dr. Boaler points out that “if brains can change in 3 weeks, imagine what can happen in a year of math class if students are given the right math materials and they receive positive messages about their potential and ability.”

What was my big takeaway from Chapter One?

GROWTH PRAISE! I’m sure by now many of you have heard of Growth Mindset or seen some of the awesome resources on Pinterest and TPT related to teaching students the impact of mindset. Here is Carol Dweck’s TED Talk in case you haven’t seen it…it’s inspiring!

A big idea with mindset is how we need to phrase our praise. “Fixed praise” is when we tell students they are “so smart.” This poses a challenge, because they felt good for being smart on a particular assignment or activity, but if they struggle on the next one they may rethink their “smarts.” Even worse, students may not try more challenging activities for fear of failing and no longer being seen as “smart.” This is why the idea of “growth praise” such as “That is an amazing piece of work” or “You have really thought deeply about this!” struck a chord with me. I will definitely be watching how I phrase my praise!

3 tips to implement:


Growth Praise! I can’t stress it enough.


No negative math comments, even if they are meant in kindness (“It’s okay, I know this is hard” or “I was bad at math in school too”) I am for sure guilty of this!


Keep encouraging a growth mindset in math, and keep working hard to model my own mathematical growth mindset!

I hope you enjoyed reading and want to keep joining us to learn more tips for encouraging a shift in mathematical mindsets! Don’t forget to comment below to share your thoughts if you’re following along, and check out these other wonderful insights about Mathematical Mindsets. See you next Thursday!