Based on a belief that it is through failure and embracing failures in our lives that we grow stronger, a new website from Amazon.com entitled With Math I Can! seeks to help children succeed in the 21st century.
“Fostering the development of growth mindset in our children, especially when it comes to math, is an integral piece of their future success in any field or job,” the website declares. “With a growth mindset, students believe that intelligence can grow. It’s that optimistic outlook that we must learn to guide and support.”
What exactly is a “growth mindset”?
In math, it’s an approach students can take in which they pledge to work hard to increase their level of understanding, instead of letting every little setback stop their forward progress.
Instead of saying “I’m not good at math,” the website wants kids to say, “I will learn from my mistakes” or “I will persevere at math,” and to embrace the process of learning instead of focusing on concrete success at solving individual problems.
The idea has plenty of support and backing, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, ASCD (formerly known as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), and PERTS, the Project for Education Research That Scales at Stanford University, where several professors who are part of With Math I Can! teach.
Just having an attitude that we as Americans aren’t good at math can have a profound and lasting negative impact on an individual’s academic progress, researchers from Stanford have found. The website, which brings together free support tools and resources for teachers and parents, tries to change that mentality by getting students and teachers to take a pledge to adopt a growth mindset, rather than the fixed one many Americans have in math.
Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford, was one of the first people to apply a growth mindset to math achievement. The website credits her with finding that “more children have a fixed mindset regarding math than any other subject.”
It would be academically dishonest not to point out that sheer numbers here don’t mean anything. It’s a simple fact that more students are required to succeed in math because of standardized testing than, say, music. It’s therefore illogical to express surprise, as the website implies we should, that “more children” have a fixed mindset in math than in music.
It’s like being surprised that we have more gun deaths in the US than knife deaths. Guns are more effective in doing the job, as is math in landing a high-paying job, and we simply have more guns in the US than many other civilized countries, just as more US students take math classes than music.
In other words, if you keep working in some endeavor and that endeavor is likely produce the desired result, be that a high-paying career in a math-related field or a lifetime memory of a great performance or work of art, you’ll eventually find success in that endeavor, whatever it may be.
The application of the growth mindset to math is therefore right on, as it would be properly applied to any academic subject or life pursuit. The growth mindset isn’t what’s new here; it’s the application of it to mathematics education on a website created by Amazon.com.
Teachers have been applying this mindset for years, of course, and Voxitatis has documented this mindset as real, on-the-ground teachers have applied it in various classrooms. In this case, the basic idea behind With Math I Can! is a good one and should help students prepare to succeed in mathematics.
It says nothing of the other subjects or about providing a well-rounded education for students in our schools, but if learning mathematics is what you want, this is a good place for it. Take the pledge and empower students to keep trying in math, without a fear of failure, by providing still more visual problems that can be solved in multiple ways.
Kids need not fear failure, especially in school, which is ideally a place where kids can fail, fail, and fail—without dire consequences. We often embrace failure even after school.
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career,” basketball great Michael Jordan starts out in his famous 30-second commercial for Nike. “I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
That could be one of the most powerful commercials of all time. Instead of fearing failure, we ought to accept it as part of the learning process. There can be no true success without failure, no mountains without valleys, no scientists or great poets without volumes of work they have thrown away, which never saw the light of day.
That’s the optimistic hope we have for projects like With Math I Can!