Jo Baeler

Math: For many it’s hard to learn and hard to teach. But is it an inherently challenging subject or are we making it more difficult than it needs to be? In her new book “Mathematical Mindsets,” Stanford professor Jo Boaler calls on educators to adopt new tools and techniques that make learning math less of a chore for students.

Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford Graduate School of Education. Author of "Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching"

  • wandagb

    Methods and strategies for good math teaching have been known for decades. The colleges are at fault for failing to properly educate new teachers, and school districts are at fault for failing to provide quality in-service for practicing teachers. Meanwhile the poor kids carry around four pound math textbooks and teachers threaten them with math homework as punishment if they misbehave.

    I wish Boaler success in harnessing the internet to bing the joy of real ‘maths’ into classrooms and into children’s lives. Listeners should visit Boaler’s website to witness what real math teaching can be.

  • Alison Forrow

    Hi there,

    Can you confirm whether this episode of the Forum with Jo Boaler will be archieved please? Living in Singapore means we will be 16 hours behind and I know teachers at my school will want to listen.

    Many thanks

    • Noelle

      it gets archived a few hours after broadcast

    • Mjhmjh

      One hour of ‘Forum’ is rebroadcast at 10 pm (Pacific) . Usually, the recording is not available online until after the repeat

  • geraldfnord

    Given their importance in making political arguments, correctly and otherwise, I would hold a basic knowledge of the meaning of statistics on the part of the polity to be a prerequisite to a functioning democracy.

  • Lisa Blank

    I would also love access to a recording of this broadcast. I serve as a math coach and would love to be able to share this with teachers who are unable to listen in today.

    Math teachers today in so many regions of the U.S. are feeling so “beaten” as they face growing demands and diminishing support. I think data is important, but the data driven methods of evaluating student progress have left teachers scrambling for more test prep and the fallout of it all is holding firm to the familiar, traditional stand and deliver methods of instruction far too often. I’m interested in hearing what Ms. Boaler would suggest for elevating the status of math education to move us out of this “rut” as quickly as possible. We must change our practices to engage our students for the good of our communities and nation as a whole.

  • Robert Thomas

    No one without a semester of undergraduate integral calculus and a semester of Introduction to Statistics has any right to think of themselves as being an educated person.

    Journalists participate in a great scandal when they boast – as they very often actually do – that they “didn’t do well at math”; “can’t do math”; “hate math” “stay away from math” etc. etc.

    My mother, who’d had all of two semesters of college during WWII, felt perfectly comfortable helping me with eighth-grade algebra, which she did quite adequately. I guess I’m lucky that I never heard once from either of my parents, anything like “don’t worry, I was no good at math, either”. That sort of attitude – that this is an unnecessary skill not required by regular people – is deeply corrosive.

    • Robert Thomas

      At fifty minutes past the hour, we FM radio listeners were relegated to the announcers hosting the KQED pledge break.

      Utterly predictably, one of the hosts commented about how overhearing the discussion with professor Boaler “made her palms sweat – ha ha ha …”

  • Juno

    Does Jo Boaler believe that kids should be sorted into classes by age and not by ability? Does she believe no one should study what we historically have called Algebra I prior to 9th grade?

  • Juno

    Talking about Einstein, Boaler states: Even the people whom society thinks of as geniuses actually worked really hard and in exceptional ways to achieve their accomplishments.

    Does Boaler not believe in giftedness? Yes or no.

  • Ada Karlstrand

    Please repeat the name of the course for improving Childrens relationship with my math. My nine year old daughter has been adequate in math, but now has switched to hating math. The impetus? Drill memorization. I very much want her to at least tolerate math, if not enjoy it, but no idea how to help.

  • Robert Thomas

    What does Professor Boaler think about the effectiveness of the great popularizers of the past who helped connect everyday experience, far-away cultures and historical events to mathematics?

    I think immediately of Lancelot Hogben, author of Mathematics for the Million and Mathematics in the Making and of course of the late Martin Gardner.

  • Noelle

    How do we change our math anxiety culture, when we have so many different school districts all over the country? Common Core was not a national success story, for instance.

  • Juno

    Don’t high ability students who have mastered material need to study material they have not mastered in order to avoid a fixed mindset?

  • Juno

    What does Jo Boaler think school districts should do for the true outliers?

  • Janet Prochazka

    I was a math major in the early 1960’s. Just did it

  • Juno

    San Francisco School District has disallowed any students from taking Algebra prior to 9th grade. Even students who have mastered the material must repeat it in 9th grade. Jo Boaler seems to support this. True?

    • cac

      Not quite, Juno.
      SF has eliminated the tracking of students in middle school. The Common Core has much of algebra taught to all students in middle school, with high school courses now teaching more advanced content earlier. Middle school math should be both more advanced and go deeper than before, and do so for all students.
      Furthermore, the new course sequence still allows students to take Advanced Placement classes in high school (but without deciding who is eligible as early as 6th or 7th grade).

  • Carmen

    I definitely experienced the mental block in math during my school years. My daughter is currently in second grade. I am actually excited to revisit math this time around through my daughter’s educational growth. I believe this time around, my maturity, patience and excitement in understanding will benefit the both of us.

  • Marilyn Harryman

    She is right! I have so much to say about it…as one who thought I was dumb in math. I now know I make unconscious “calculations” every time I drive and estimate when to accelerate, someone else’s speed, etc.
    However, the comment I wish to make is about telling kids they are soooo smart. What we really need to be saying is ” I like how you solved that problem” or “show me how you did that”. So many ways to solve problems and we need problem solvers!

  • Marilyn Harryman

    Further…most who teach math have no idea about the elegance of mathematics. Most teachers unfortunately are also credentialed in other subjects as well. We need to respect teachers by how we pay them! Singapore is a great example!

  • Thomas Chao

    I’m not sure if this plays in but I’m ENFP according to myers briggs, 25, male berkeley graduate in sociology. I can’t help but think back to my elementary days and recalling how bored I was with the math curiculum I was forced to learn. Not just the method of teaching but the pace of learning g at which the public education deemed was appropriate.
    I had fully grasp the concept of all basic arithmetic by the 3Rd grade, i.e. adition, fractional divisional/mutiplication, numbers with decimals etc. but it took amother 3 years of school before I had any exposure to introductory algebra which had restored my interest and finally provided a new challenge.
    By the time more advance forms of math were available to me I was either too distracted by everything a typical high school boy would be distracted by or detered by a non conducive learning enviornment. Where students were somtiems in the same class not based on adequate mathematical ability but simply because of they’re grade level.
    Jo Boaler is shedding light on an idea that should be not taken lightly by institution involved in developing the public education system. Society and culture is what drives it’s own advances and developments. THERE NEEDS TO BE MORE EMPHASIS ON EDUCATION IN THE ARTS AND A NEW APPROACH TO TEACHING MATH. I personally think the outdated approach to teaching math and limitation to creative outlets was particularly stifling in my educational journey and development as a confident individual.
    As a first generation American born that lacked little resources growing up, I feel particularly strong about this topic. Jo Boaler is speaking on an idea that has many positive affects besides the immediate ones she is discussing .

  • Robstar

    The greatest gift my 2nd grade math teacher gave me was marking me “complete” on my timed multiplication tests even though I was never fast enough. I went on to become an engineer and love math.

    • The old way was based on memorization. That’s why the new methods are better.

    • Robert Thomas

      I had a similar experience. Years later, when I was taking a fascinating abstract algebra course, I admitted to our excellent instructor that I couldn’t claim that I perfectly well knew my times tables. He reported that he had never learned them either.

  • I support the progressive methods of teaching math that are represented in Common Core.

  • Mjhmjh

    Few people argue when those who are the best at football are selected for the varsity team, or object to football players and others with sports talent (or who lack it) working to improve in teams composed mostly of those of similar ability. Why, then, is there such resistance to the idea of grouping students by ability with the goal of improving their math skills?

    • cac

      Because “ability” in mathematics is not well-defined much less well-measured. And when we try to rank and sort students, we always end up segregating students by inequitable factors such as ethnicity and class.
      In addition, the research is very clear that when we group students, many are harmed and few, if any, are benefited.

      • Mjhmjh

        Thank you for your measured response. I agree that factors such as ethnicity and class can be evident when there is tracking – just as there is in sports, when students from low-income families don’t even try out, or join, teams or traveling teams, because of their parents’ financial or time constraints. (The vague promise of busaries is not always enough to overcome the initial embarrassment they fear they’ll suffer or cause their parents.) But, just as in sports, I think that, with tracking, these factors come into play BEFORE the tracking, rather than being caused by the tracking itself. Because by the time the tracking occurs, the students are usually already failing to achieve. And wealthy parents of less-able students will pay for extra tutoring, or try to play the system, in order to push their children into a higher track than is commensurate with their ability – where they’ll probably be unhappy, feel that they’re failures and possibly become so. And, in my opinion, this income and achievement contrast is definitely a problem (possibly even THE problem) that deserves far more attention on the part of educators and politicians. But a true meritocracy is, of course, very difficult to achieve.

  • Sheryl Morris

    Many who take Montessori teacher-training come away with a new feeling about math. “If only I’d learned math this way.” Jo, do you have knowledge about Montessori classroom math?? THANK YOU! Angeline Stoll Lillard mentions your work in her “Montessori, The Science Behind the Genius.” I’ve read “What’s Math Got To Do With It?” You put me on to “The Math Gene” and “Fermat’s Enigma” Love them and I come from a “traumatized math” background.

  • Jeanne Lazzarini

    I applaud Jo Boaler and her YouCubed website! She is right on target with what needs to be changed in the mathematics teaching profession! More attention and support needs to happen in order to educate teachers to be strong leaders in math education. And new ways of assessing must incorporate encouraging students to be thinkers and collaborators who can see the math as a tool to accomplish problem solving in all its capacities!

    With my undergraduate and graduate degrees in math, and 20+ combined years of teaching K -12th g math — and connecting math to different subjects the arts, science, technology, engineering, etc) I now mentor and train K-12 math teachers at RAFT (Resource Area for Teaching). Unfortunately, I often find many K- 6th grade teachers do not have a strong command of math, so their insecurities often project to the students. For example, one of the worst comments I have found are teachers telling their students “I don’t enjoy this either but we’ll struggle through it together!” This only sets the stage for students that math is horrible!

    I strongly believe that teaching Project based lessons and Design Challenges give students opportunities to grow their brains by making mistakes and learning from them! I have found these methods successful only when a teacher is comfortable with the subject and knows how to orchestrate (“implement”) the activities so that students are learning through the process of exploration and discovery. Students remember the math best when they see the purpose for it! And they grow in their social-emotional skills when they communicate, argue, assess, rethink, make mistakes, and grow through the process of that learning.

    I think Common Core has had a bad rap from people who don’t truly understand how to implement it. That includes many teachers, parents, and administrators! So many false statements are promoting Common Core as nonsense, when in reality, used as intended, it opens up avenues of discovery and insight for our students that have been lacking over the years with too much attention on test scores and procedural accomplishments….. Common Core is intended to make connections between different subjects so there is an understanding and meaningful discourse on why those subjects truly matter.

    Jeanne Lazzarini | Mathematics Master Teacher/Educational R&D
    RAFT – Resource Area For Teaching |

  • turquoisewaters

    It goes without saying that all students can learn math. But that does not mean that all can learn math at the same rate or to the same depth. It almost does not matter if that is due to the math ability they were born with or due to the experiences they had so far. The fact is that students enter 9th grade with very different levels of knowledge/skills/concepts, and you cannot do them justice by starting them all out in the same course. My fear is that in the name of equity, we are denying those bright students who don’t have parents that can send them to private schools a shot at a STEM career.
    Kudos to Michael Kresny for having the guts to politely disagree on some points.

  • turquoisewaters

    It is a misrepresentation to say that math education in the US is all drill and memorization. Good math teachers everywhere try develop a deeper understanding of concepts in their students, and not just since the advent of common core.

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