Math Tips from Homework Help: Growth Mindset

Blog Post created by teachontarioteam on Apr 22, 2015

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fixedgrowth-copy.jpgChad Richard is the Program Consultant for K-12 Numeracy with the Durham Catholic District School Board and a tutor with Homework Help, the free online math resource for kids in grades 7 to 10.


There is a myth out there.  Many believe that being good at math is a “gift” that you are either born with or not.  The truth is that is not the case.


A well-known researcher on the brain and success, Carol Dweck, has shown us there is a lot to be learned about changing our attitudes about learning and our ability to succeed. Her book “Mindset: the New Psychology of Success” champions a “growth mindset". Dweck explains that people with a growth mindset believe that their math abilities and “smarts” grow with experience and effort, whereas people with a fixed mindset believe they are born with a certain amount of intelligence and it really can’t change (“math is a gift”).


How do you think the different mindsets affect learning? People with a growth mindset persist, learn from mistakes, and are encouraged by the success of others.  People with a fixed mindset hate to fail as it tells them they are not smart, and will typically avoid challenges. Learn more from math expert Jo Boaler in this video.


How Do You Encourage a Growth Mindset?


Here are few  tips that can help your child enjoy math learning more, and likely be more successful!


  1. Little White Lie:  Whatever you do, don’t tell your kids you were never good at math or that you are not good at it, especially girls.  Research shows that parents who tell their children (especially mothers to their daughters) that they were never really good at math affect their child’s achievement – it starts to go down. If you find that your child is struggling in math, say “don’t worry, we can figure this out” , “I love a good challenge, let’s do this!” , “I’m sure with a little hard work, we’ll get this” , or even the little white lie…. “I love math, I know you can too!”

  2. famous-failures.jpgCelebrate Mistakes: As mentioned in a previous post, celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities.  Look for the logic in the mistakes your child makes as there is usually some really good math in there.  The more children learn to accept their mistakes, the less fear there is in making them, and the more learning can happen.  While your child is working on math, ask: “that’s interesting, where did you get that answer?”, “How did you do that? “Why did you do that?” or “I wonder if there is another way to do this?”

  3. Compliment Effort, NOT Intelligence:  As parents, we can’t help but say how amazing and smart our children are.  But if kids are made to feel their success is based on their intelligence, when they fail (and they will fail!) then they will fell they are not smart enough to meet a new challenge.  Praise your child’s efforts and perseverance to succeed, and your child will always know that that is what he or she needs to succeed.

  4. growth mindset.jpgEncourage a Challenge: Children with a fixed mindset will not challenge themselves out of fear of making mistakes, but it has been proven that mistakes is where new learning happens.  Children with a growth mindset don’t fear challenges as they know mistakes are inevitable and are required to succeed.  Plus the success is much more satisfying.  Mathematicians don’t waste their time on problems they know how to do because it’s not worth their effort.  Teach your child to seek out challenges, and be a good example by trying challenges of your own.

  5. The Power of “Yet”: Sometimes it is so easy to say “I don’t know that!” While that may be a hard habit to break, trying adding one word to that statement …. “I don’t know that…. YET!”  I find with my students and my own children that adding the word “yet” is very encouraging and elicits more effort and perseverance when learning something new… especially math.  This could be the very first step to developing a growth mindset.