Jo Boaler: Mathematical Mindsets

Chapter 2: The Power of Mistakes and Struggle

"Every time a student makes a mistake in math, they grow a synapse." (p.11)

The ramifications of this are HUGE! So, if students are not making mistakes (Often the best and brightest), synapses are not developing.

"What separates the more successful people from the less successful people is not the number of their successes but the number of mistakes they make, with the more successful people making more mistakes." (p.13)

"Imperfection is a part of any creative process and of life, yet for some reason we live in a culture that has a paralysing fear of failure, which prevents action and hardens a rigid perfectionism.  It's the single most disempowering state of mind you can have if you'd like to be more creative, inventive, or entrepreneurial." (Sims, P. (2011, August 6). Daring to stumble on the road to discovery. New York Times. Retrieved from (p.13)

Successful people:

  • Feel comfortable being wrong
  • Try seemingly wild ideas
  • Are open to different experiences
  • Play with ideas without judging them
  • Are willing to go against traditional ideas
  • Keep going through difficulties
How do we change the way students view mistakes?  We want students to try new ideas without fear of being wrong! We need to celebrate mistakes!

Teachers need to encourage students to share their mistakes - conceptual mistakes rather than numerical mistakes - and celebrate that their brain was sparking and growing. It needs to become a culture in our classes.

"We need to give students more experiences of mathematical ambiguity and risk taking." (p.18)

"If we want students to be making mistakes, we need to give them challenging work that will be difficult for them, that will prompt disequilibrium. This work should be accompanied by positive messages about mistakes, messages that enable students to feel comfortable working on harder problems, making mistakes and continuing on." (p.19)


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