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!


  1. Love the quote; our belief system is so crucial to learning! I can't wait to hear more about how you plan on shifting your math curriculum into a more mistake-centered class; that's what I need to do also!!

    1. Thanks Kathie! I'm definitely thinking I need some growth mindset and mistake-centers posters & anchor charts!! :)

  2. I love your ideas! I'm trying to figure out how to mesh valuing mistakes over correctness with how I've taught math all these years! I can't wait to see your ideas as we go through this together!

  3. I enjoyed reading your post. I, too, am guilty of putting stickers on students papers for making a high grade, essentially celebrating them for not making many mistakes. I like your idea of shifting to a "mistake-centered" classroom. Imagine what our students would be able to learn this way! I look forward to hearing more about how you will make this transition.

  4. You pulled a strong quote from this chapter, and I enjoyed the positivity that permeates your post. I like how you highlighted the need for challenging tasks. It mistakes created through these types of tasks that I feel can help students learn perseverance and problem solving.