What's Math Got to Do with It?: How Teachers and Parents Can Transform Mathematics Learning and Inspire Success

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9780143128298: What's Math Got to Do with It?: How Teachers and Parents Can Transform Mathematics Learning and Inspire Success

“Highly accessible and enjoyable for readers who love and loathe math.” —Booklist

A critical read for teachers and parents who want to improve children’s mathematics learning, What’s Math Got to Do with It? is “an inspiring resource” (Publishers Weekly). Featuring all the important advice and suggestions in the original edition of What’s Math Got to Do with It?, this revised edition is now updated with new research on the brain and mathematics that is revolutionizing scientists’ understanding of learning and potential.

As always Jo Boaler presents research findings through practical ideas that can be used in classrooms and homes. The new What’s Math Got to Do with It? prepares teachers and parents for the Common Core, shares Boaler’s work on ways to teach mathematics for a “growth mindset,” and includes a range of advice to inspire teachers and parents to give their students the best mathematical experience possible.

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About the Author:

DR. JO BOALER is a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University. The author of seven books and numerous research articles, she serves as an advisor to several Silicon Valley companies and is a White House presenter on girls and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). She recently formed youcubed.org to give teachers and parents the resources and ideas they need to inspire and excite students about mathematics.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

“Without doubt, this is the most important book parents should read before choosing a school for their child, and teachers should read when considering ways to improve their math teaching. A compelling, readable account of years of research into what works, and what doesn’t, in mathematics education.”

—Keith Devlin, PhD, Stanford University mathematician, award-winning author of The Math Gene and thirty-one other books, and the Math Guy on NPR

“Jo Boaler vividly shows us—rather than just telling us—what terrific math instruction looks like and, equally important, how sharply it differs from how the subject is usually taught. What’s Math Got to Do with It? is the first book I recommend to teachers and parents who want to understand the harms of conventional ways of teaching math as well as the benefits of realistic alternatives.”

—Alfie Kohn, author of The Schools Our Children > Deserve and Feel-Bad Education

“There is so much wisdom packed into this engaging little book. Boaler sensibly addresses current hot topics—the Common Core, mind-set, ability grouping, gender differences—but goes way behind them to consider the nature of mathematics itself and offers a wealth of practical advice to parents, teachers, and policy makers. More than ever, we need books on education like his one.”

—Mike Rose, author of Possible Lives: The Promise of Education in America

“What’s Math Got to Do with It? comes the closest of anything that I have read to a manifesto that I would provide to parents to help them better understand the importance of good teaching of interesting and complex mathematics.”

—Journal for Research in Mathematics Education

“Jo Boaler shows that math is understandable, and that it can be fun to get your head around it—but that it’s often taught in ways that make it dry and deadly. She points to the beauty and joy of mathematics, and ways that math classrooms can become centers of lively mathematical thinking. American children deserve a richer mathematical diet than we’ve given them, and Boaler shows how and why.”

—Alan H. Schoenfeld, Elizabeth and Edward Conner Professor of Education, University of California, Berkeley

“This extraordinary book shows teachers and parents the path to teaching children to enjoy math while they develop deep and flexible understanding. The author practices what she preaches; using systematic research she and others have conducted on two continents, she makes learning about math teaching accessible and fun.”

—Deborah Stipek, I. James Quillen Dean and Professor of Education, Stanford University

“Jo Boaler makes a powerful case for a problem-solving approach to teaching mathematics, and she presents the research to back it up. This book should be read by anyone concerned about the education of our children.”

—Deborah Schifter, principal research scientist, Education Development Center, Inc.

“Jo Boaler explains with insight and clarity why so many students dislike mathematics and what the rest of us can do about it. Her solutions are comprehensive, grounded in research, and powerfully applied by parents, teachers, and anyone else with an interest in mathematics.”

—Dan Meyer, Apple Distinguished Educator and one of Tech & Learning’s 30 Leaders of the Future

WHAT’S MATH GOT TO DO WITH IT?

Jo Boaler is a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University and the cofounder of YouCubed. She is also the editor of the Research Commentary section of The Journal for Research in Mathematics Education (JRME) and author of the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on mathematics teaching and learning. Former roles have included being the Marie Curie Professor of Mathematics Education in England. She is the recipient of several awards, an adviser to Silicon Valley companies, and a White House presenter on girls and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. She is a regular contributor to national television and radio in the United States and the UK. Her research has appeared in newspapers around the world including the Wall Street Journal, the Times (London), and the Telegraph (UK).

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First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2008

Published in Penguin Books 2009

This revised edition published 2015

Copyright © 2008, 2015 by Jo Boaler

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Photographs by the author unless otherwise indicated.

ISBN 978-1-101-99205-0

While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers, Internet addresses, and other contact information at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors or for changes that occur after publication. Further, publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

Acknowledgments

This book has been a journey of opportunities. Over recent years I have been able to learn from some of America’s most inspirational teachers and their students, and to work alongside visionary friends and colleagues who have broadened and enriched my thinking. I am deeply grateful to many people in California, particularly at Stanford University and in Bay Area schools, who made this book possible.

This book was conceived at a very special place: the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in California, a place devoted to the generation of ideas. I had given a presentation to the other fellows at the center, a group of scholars who worked in different areas of social science research, on the results of my studies of mathematics learning. The group responded strongly, with expressions of shock and dismay, and they urged me to get my results out to the general public. They convinced me to write a book proposal for a broader audience and many people—in particular Susan Shirk, Sam Popkin, and David Clark—supported me along the way.

From that point I was greatly encouraged by my agent Jill Marsal and Kathryn Court, of Penguin Books, both of whom believed in the book, which meant a lot to me. I wrote the book in the stimulating environment of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, surrounded by a group of graduate students who served as critics and supporters. I would personally like to thank all of my doctoral students, past and present, who contributed to the mathematics education group at Stanford.

I have learned a great deal from some truly inspirational teachers in recent years—among them Cathy Humphreys, Carlos Cabana, Sandie Gilliam, Estelle Woodbury, and Ruth Parker. They change students’ lives on a daily basis and I am privileged to have been able to work with them and learn from them. Cathy is a good friend who has helped me in many ways. I am also deeply grateful to the students of Railside, Greendale, Hilltop, Amber Hill, and Phoenix Park schools; they all gave me their honest and insightful feedback on their mathematics learning experiences and they are the reason that I wrote this book.

I am fortunate to have had some great teachers of my own in my life—including Professors Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, both of whom encouraged me in important ways at an early point in my academic career and kindly read chapters of this book for me. Professor Leone Burton, one of my strongest supporters, will be greatly missed by many people. Most of all I would like to thank my two daughters, Jaime and Ariane, for putting up with me when I lock myself away to write!

Preface to the New Edition

Introduction

In 2008, when What’s Math Got to Do with It? was first published, the United States was in the grip of endless multiple-choice testing and widespread math failure, brain research was in its infancy, and a group of traditional mathematicians was working tirelessly to stop school reforms. Fast-forward to 2015 and the landscape has changed with the emergence of incredible new research on the brain and learning, which is being acknowledged and acted upon. The White House has convened numerous meetings over the past few years where researchers, myself included, have talked about mathematics, mind-set, and equity. The traditional mathematicians have lost their voice, and many more people are receptive to the idea of a future in which all children can learn mathematics to high levels. These changes pave the way for the creation of mathematics classrooms in which students are excited to learn and teachers are armed with the most important knowledge that inspires students to achieve excellence in math.

I love books. I enjoy reading and writing them, but the Internet has helped me to achieve something that is very important to my long-term professional mission. In the summer of 2013, I tried an experiment. A few months earlier I had been introduced to Sebastian Thrun, an amazing man who invented self-driving cars, led Google teams developing Google Maps and Google Glass, and is the CEO of Udacity. The world of free online courses, or MOOCs (massive open online courses), is generally attributed to Sebastian and his colleague Peter Norvig, who is the director of research at Google. Sebastian and Peter decided to put one of Sebastian’s Stanford computer science courses online. One hundred sixty thousand people registered for the course, and the MOOC world began. Sebastian went on to create Udacity, an online-course provider, and some months later asked me to help with course design. The time I spent at Udacity was enough to give me the knowledge I needed to design my own course. Putting knowledge about the brain and math learning into the hands of our nation’s teachers and parents would change everything and lent itself perfectly to online courses that could share information widely. I designed my courses to make them engaging and interactive, but the levels of interest in the classes surpassed my greatest hopes. To date more than 130,000 people—teachers, parents, and students—have taken my online courses entitled “How to Learn Math,” and they are now armed with the critical information that I will share in this book.

I took Udacity’s idea that online courses should not be talking heads and adopted their principle that professors should not talk for more than two minutes before engaging the learners in a task. I didn’t have much time, with a full-time job teaching at Stanford, researching, and looking after a large team of doctoral students, but I spent every spare moment on weekends and in the evenings creating my experimental course. The course appeared on Stanford’s online platform in the summer of 2013 but was not advertised in any way. The course opened with approximately five thousand registrants, but word of mouth spread quickly, and by the time the course finished at the end of the summer more than forty thousand teachers and parents had enrolled. Many MOOCs have high enrollment, but generally only a small proportion of the people who register end up taking the courses. This was not the case with my course, and an impressive 63 percent of people completed most of the course. Even more rewardingly, at the end of the course 95 percent of teachers and parents said that they would change their teaching/parenting as a result of the ideas they had learned in the class. In the months after my class, news of the ideas spread, hundreds of videos were posted to YouTube, my in-box was flooded, and requests for speaking engagements increased. So many teachers and parents asked for continued access to the new ideas that Cathy Williams and I launched YouCubed. YouCubed initially was a nonprofit company but now is a center at Stanford. In the summer of 2014, I published a new online course getting the same powerful ideas straight to students, and within a few months of the course opening eighty-five thousand students had taken the class or been shown the videos by their teachers.

I do not think that online courses are the most powerful medium for learning—I would always rather interact with groups of learners face-to-face and have them discuss ideas with each other—but online courses allow wide-scale access to important knowledge that urgently needs to be shared and that cannot depend on parents finding their way to high-quality teaching in their local area. I have been frustrated over the years by universities encouraging professors to publish research on learning only in academic journals, which are read by other academics and do not get to the people who need them—teachers and parents. Important knowledge on ways to learn effectively is usually locked away in journals and libraries unless researchers choose to publish their findings in different, more accessible ways and universities do not penalize them for doing so. This is what motivated me to publish the first edition of What’s Math Got to Do with It? and to update this edition with the latest research and practical information on ways to help all learners of mathematics.

When I wrote the original edition of What’s Math Got to Do with It? the field of mathematics education had a large body of research on ways to teach and learn mathematics well. We knew how to empower math learners, but the research was not getting to teachers or being used in classrooms. If you walk into most math classrooms in the United States, particularly at the high school level, you would think you had been transported into the Victorian age. For the most part teachers are still at the front of the room lecturing on methods, students are still at desks learning to calculate by hand, and the mathematics being taught is three-hundred-year-old mathematics that is not needed in the modern world.1 In elementary classrooms across the United States, students are turned away from mathematics on a daily basis by timed tests and speed competitions, which we know can cause the early onset of math anxiety for many students.2, 3, 4 We have the research knowledge to change this and for classrooms to become places where all students are inspired by mathematics. In the last decade, important new research on the brain and learning has emerged, which is critical for math teachers, math learners, and parents everywhere.

Mind-set and Mathematics

In 2006, a trade book appeared on bookshelves that ultimately would have one of the biggest impacts of any research volume ever published in education. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford Professor Carol Dweck summarized key findings from her research on the nature and impact of mind-sets. The book quickly became a New York Times bestseller and was translated into more than twenty languages. Dweck’s decades of research with people of various ages showed that students with a “growth mind-set”—who believe that intelligence and “smartness” can be learned—go on to higher levels of achievement, engagement, and persistence. The implications of this mind-set are profound, especially for students of mathematics.

When I returned to Stanford in 2010, one ...

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