Mathematical Mindsets Chapter 6

Mathematics and the Path to Equity

Thanks for joining us for Week 6 in our Mathematical Mindsets book study! This chapter was jam packed with strategies, so I want to jump right in!

The statistics that this chapter opens with are alarming. As we continue to learn with this book, there is no such thing as a good-at-math gene, so I figure, “Why focus on the past?” Women and minority groups have statistically been left in the dust and are underrepresented in higher-level mathematics, so how do we, as teachers today, prevent this from continuing to happen?

I’ve decided to focus this post on Dr. Boaler’s Equitable Strategies, which she shares as “strategies for purposefully making math more inclusive.”


Offer all students high-level content

We need to make sure all students have the opportunity to attain higher-level mathematics courses. Dr. Boaler addresses this in greater detail in chapter 7, so I will hold off on discussing in detail.


Work to change ideas about who can achieve in mathematics

The mindset beliefs held by teachers open or close the pathways for students, and that fixed mindset thinking and teaching is a large part of the reason inequities continue in math and science, for women and students of color (Boaler, p. 102).

Give students the message that you know they can succeed in math. And don’t just say it, actually know in your heart that every single one of your students has the potential to succeed!


Encourage all students to think deeply about mathematics

Girls have a greater tendency than boys to want to understand deeply why methods work, where they come from, and how they relate to other concepts and domains (Boaler 2002b; Zohar & Sela, 2003). When we focus solely on the procedural aspects of mathematics, we are denying the opportunity for deeper, meaningful understanding. The following aspects of successful math teaching can guide us in solving this problem:

Hands-on Experiences – Providing direct interaction with the workings of a concept can greatly increase a students’ conceptual understanding, as well as their ability to form connections to other concepts and disciplines. I began implementing Math Centers in my upper grade classroom last year, and directly saw the benefit of hands-on experiences. Here is are examples of a Fractions center, where students created posters with a variety of models for the concept of dividing a whole number by a fraction:

Project-based curriculum – This year, we finished out our year with Digital Divide and Conquer’s Final Frontier outer space PBL unit, which phenomenally connected many of our math concepts in a project-based, engaging format. Matt has created TONS of great PBL resources, and I highly encourage you to check out his shop:

Curriculum with real-life applications – I try to tie mathematics into our engineering challenges and find other ways to make real-life connections, but this is definitely an area I need to focus my growth on!

Opportunities to work together – A study of Berkeley students in high-level math classes highlighted the importance of working together in mathematics. High-achieving Chinese-American students were observed completing assignments in a collaborative manner, supporting each other’s struggles and working through challenges together. The African-American students were observed completing assignments in isolation, and were quick to give up when struggles arose, because they felt they were just not good at the math. This led to alarmingly high failure rates, but was completely turned around after researchers provided seminars on collaboratively approaching mathematics. The African-American population actually surpassed the Chinese-American population within 2 years of the seminar’s implementation, proving the importance of collaboration and a positive mindset!

I plan on encouraging more collaboration in my math block by continuing centers and really incorporating math talks using the MP’s as often as possible. Angela Watson has a fantastic set of cards with number talk question stems to help us build math discussions, which I’ve linked here:


Eliminate (or at least change the nature of) homework!

I know the topic of homework can lead to heated discussion, because it is so customary to U.S. schooling. There is so much research out there, however, that homework has no impact or a negative impact on student learning. If something is not helping out students’ learning, we should reconsider it and make some changes. If something has been proven to have a negative impact, we should throw it out the window like it’s on fire!

If you want to make the jump into eliminating math homework, here are some resources Dr. Boaler lists as evidence in support of this:
  • Alfie Kohn – The Case Against Homework
  • Sal Khan – The One World School House
  • Various resources from Challenges Success, 2012

If you’re not quite ready to ditch homework altogether, or if your school requires that you assign homework, then Dr. Boaler recommends at least changing the nature of that homework: “Instead of giving questions students need to answer in a performance orientation, give reflection questions that encourage students to think back on the mathematics of the lesson and focus on the big ideas” (page 108). 

I’ve adapted Dr. Boaler’s example of this into the sheet below, which you can download as a freebie to get you started on this homework shift!

Whew! I know this was a long post, but the strategies felt so valuable to me that I felt compelled to inspire other teachers to use them. Which of the above are you willing to give a try? Comment below, and hop through the link up to see other bloggers big takeaways!


  1. LOVE the homework reflection sheet! What a great alternative to drill & kill worksheets. Thanks, Lorraine!

    1. You're welcome! I loved the questions Dr. Boaler had framed, but we all know how handy a printable is! :)

  2. I really like how your students were using the fraction manipulatives and recording their strategies. It's such a powerful way to help them make connections. I also love your homework sheet. Asking students to reflect on mistakes and what they learned from them is AWESOME! I'm going to suggest that strategy to some teachers this year! Thanks for such great ideas!

    1. Thank you so much Shametria!! I can't wait to use it too! I just pitched the reflection sheet to my team leader, and we are all trying it out in 5th this year! Can't wait!