Friday, March 3, 2017

Mathematics and the Path to Equity

Welcome to week 3 of our Mathematical Mindsets book study! If you are just joining us, be sure to check out our launch, The Power of Mistakes and Struggle and Creating Mathematical Mindsets

Chapter 6: Mathematics and the Path to Equity

Big Ideas

-The myth of the mathematically gifted child: This section reminded me of my own math story
- All students should have access to high-level content
-Try to change ideas about who can do well in math
- Make sure students have opportunities to think deeply about math
- Importance of group work
- Eliminate homework
- Encourage minorities 

Impact in the Classroom 

 Eliminating Homework 

The strategy that resonated the most with me is the elimination of homework.  Last school year, I made the decision to stop assigning math homework altogether and it has been great.  The kids who were the most likely to do the homework were the ones who needed it the least.  Having parents and caretakers "help" with homework was leading to procedures I wasn't ready to embrace in the classroom along with negative feelings about math.  I was spending more class time assigning and collecting homework than kids were spending doing it.  Now, I assign no homework.  I do have a class blog that is a curated list of online activities that go along with what we are learning in class.  Families can access this at home if they wish but it is certainly not a requirement.  I also use a lot of games/centers in my classroom and sometimes kids will love a particular game and want to share it with their families.  I let students who wish to take games home to play with family members do this.  I also occasionally will have a student who wants more practice with a particular skill and will ask for something extra.  I indulge this desire.  Since eliminating homework in my classroom, things seem much more equitable and students, parents and myself all seem happier.  I have not noticed a lack of understanding or that we are farther behind than in years past.

Working in Groups 

Another strategy that really resonated with my was teaching students to work together.  In the times that I was most challenged by my math classes, I had a group that I could turn to for help.  I remember spending 6 hours every Thursday night in our University library working on problem sets together.  This gave me the confidence I needed because I could see others were struggling also and because I was able to construct my knowledge with others.  When I was student teaching, my mentor teacher had me read Designing Groupwork which led to a great system for making sure my students work together.  It isn't always perfect and sometimes group work can be a challenge but it is such an important part of my math lessons.

Offering High Level Content to All Students 

The strategy I envision being the most difficult to implement is definitely offering all students high-level content. I think we have done this in our elementary school but I imagine it would be harder and harder to do as students get older and the gap between students widens.  Our school district currently offers accelerated math beginning in grade 7.  I have always been on the fence about whether this is a good idea and this chapter got me thinking that maybe it isn't. 

Chapter 7: From Tracking to Growth Mindset Grouping 

Big Ideas 

-When students are offered high level content they achieve at higher levels
- "We can give no stronger fixed mindset message to students than we do by putting them into groups determined by their current achievement and teaching them accordingly." 
- The importance of providing open ended tasks
- Complex Instruction
-Valuing different types of skills

Impact in the Classroom

Re-Thinking Tracking

Over the past few years, our school has moved completely away from grouping kids for math based on skills.  We teach heterogeneous groups for each grade level and have even moved to teaching some multi-age math groups.  The only exception has been kids who are more than two years behind in math.  These kids are often pulled out of their math class and offered math in a different setting by a special educator.  I would be interested to hear more about folks' opinions on how far behind is to far behind to group heterogeneously. 

More Low Floor, High Ceiling Tasks

When I provide my students with open ended tasks, they are more engaged and invested in their learning.  I feel great about my teaching.  I think I need to do more of these types of tasks but I am still working on juggling doing these tasks with number talks and all of the other things I am expected to do or think work really great for my students.  I will be thinking more about this.

What did you think about this week's reading?!  Please respond in the comments below! 


  1. I really like your idea of putting sites on your blog that go with the unit being taught!! I definitely want to roll that out next year. I also want to want to use group work in math more, both to enhance higher level thinking as well as respect for different types of skills. I do think that providing access to high level content is important for all students, yet teaching basic strategies and number concepts is important as well. I feel kids need a foundation to access higher level tasks.

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