Math Mindsets



Originally Shared on:

Big Ideas in Education

Big Ideas in Education

Growth Mindsets in Math are important for student learning. 

Our youngest students are often very excited about learning math. But then something happens. I believe that  a students diminishing excitement for math is directly related to a lack of a growth mindset.

What is a Growth Mindset? 

A Growth Mindset is a philosophy promoted by Dr. Carol Dweck. With a growth mindset, we each have the ability to achieve success beyond our innate abilities. We also have the option to move forward in the face of adversity, and become successful in our own right.

When it comes to math, there is no such thing as a ‘math person’. This is because a person’s true potential is always unknown, or unknowable.

But often, in school, we become focussed on getting the ‘correct’ answers, as fast as we can. This leads to students having fixed mindsets about their abilities in math.

In math, we want students to NOT feel shame that there are deficiencies – this is why we learn! We all have the capacity to learn through our efforts – AND through deliberate practice.

We also want students to understand that it is the process of learning that is important – not just the final product.

No matter where you are in your learning, you can always develop yourself further.

 Parents can go a long way to promote Growth Mindsets at home, Here’s How:

  • Avoid assuming that you are, or are not, a ‘math’ person. This can promote a fixed mindset in your child.
  • Have fun with math: Play math games, puzzles, cook and bake together!
  • Avoid praising speed when it comes to math
  • When a child gets an answer incorrect, instead focus on the process (logic), not the final answer (product) – try to find out what went wrong!
  • Praise your child’s ‘thinking’  rather than telling them how ‘smart’ they are. This helps students to understand that challenge is okay. Thinking that they are ‘smart’ can put pressure on them to think that struggling with math is a bad thing.
Deborah McCallum
Other Reference:

Makerspaces for All




Over this last year, I have had the opportunity to understand what Education for All, Learning for All, differentiation and equity on deeper levels due to working in a Makerspace.

Learning is about problem solving, creating positive math mindsets, constructing and building knowledge through hands on activities, and most of all, promoting equity. No where is this more true than in a Makerspace.

However, I think that we have very deep issues pertaining to equity in our schools and classrooms. The ways that things are traditionally done simply do not facilitate success for everyone – but this is what education is all about – doing whatever we can to help students be successful.

Makerspaces (or S.T.E.A.M. Rooms – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), are opportunities for new kinds of teaching and learning that promote equity. Based in Constructionism, Makerspaces are designed to give students the ability to build knowledge themselves with hands on tasks. Our students do not have to learn from the teachers experiences and knowledge, they can actively build it themselves.

Working in a Makerspace means that timelines need to be flexible. This fits in beautifully with Growth Mindsets. Students should not have to feel bad because something wasn’t built by the end of the period – this alone does not prove how much a student learned. What matters is the knowledge built from the experience and the process.



Consider this example for a moment:

A class is given a design challenge that brings in many elements of structures in science and math concepts with geometry and spatial reasoning. There are multiple entry points, where students can build as simple, or as complex as they would like. Next:

Student A builds a structure in 5 minutes, whereas Student B struggles with the process for an entire learning block, and does not come close to finishing.

The most important questions become: What was learned? What value did each student get out of the process?

Student A feels great because they built something on time. It came fast, and easy. However, student A did not learn anything.

By contrast: Student B doesn’t finish, feels terrible about not finishing. Frustration levels go high. Self-esteem drops.

Both develop a fixed mindset about learning.

What a travesty it would be if Student B did not have the opportunity to understand why there was struggle with the process? What if this student struggled because they were figuring out a very complex piece of learning for them? What if they were taking the risk to learn, even though the stakes might be high?

Student B did not take the easy route. Student B made mistakes. Student B is experiencing frustration which is what happens in learning. Student B doesn’t realise that they are reinforcing an image of not finishing in time as being a bad thing.

Student A doesn’t feel the need to learn anything new. Student A believes that finishing quickly is a good thing. Student A doesn’t have a teacher who will continue to provide opportunities to take the learning even deeper. Student A’s learning stalls, yet Student A benefits from an image of being a model student.



Can you imagine if people were not allowed to change their plans, make mistakes and start fresh? Or worse, what if we as educators are the ones sending these messages to our students that they cannot?


I always ask my students, What would happen if an engineer did not ever change plans, make mistakes and even start over?

Now, some students need scaffolding with this – they need to understand what an engineer does, and they need to understand that ‘creating’ and ‘making’ follow a process. They need to understand that we design new ideas and structures to help people.

But when they do understand this, it really seems to click with them. They would WANT an engineer who is designing a bridge, for instance, to stop, revise plans, fix mistakes and start over if necessary. This is far more advantageous than quitting after a mistake, or quitting because work needed to extend past a deadline.

Therefore, working in a Makerspace has to mean becoming flexible with timelines and tasks. It has to be about building knowledge in ways that are very new in our school systems.

My experiences in creating a community atmosphere where students have choice and voice, has taught me a great deal about student learning. It has taught me that I do not have to ‘control’ student learning, yet I can facilitate the learning and help students meet their learning goals in many ways.

This has a huge impact on classroom management as well. In fact, the biggest behaviour issues that surface are the ones directly related to problem solving skills, and from having fixed mindsets. Not from students feeling bored, ‘dumb’, or disconnected from learning.

The fact is, that providing students with different ways of doing things, and providing students with opportunities to learn differently and share their voices in different ways produces greater focus, growth mindsets, and student-centered knowledge building opportunities. In my humble experience, this demonstrates that all students can be successful with opportunities to learn in different ways. It promotes equity.

This takes differentiation and Education for All to a whole new level. We are not differentiating so that students can do what WE want them to do all the time. We are differentiating for them – so that the students can build knowledge in ways that are personally meaningful to them. While still meeting the learning goals. While still learning about the Big Ideas.

What does this look like? 

  • We are facilitating, asking questions, promoting student inquiry.
  • We are starting with the Big Ideas.
  • We are setting key learning goals.
  • We are clustering the specific expectations around them – from many different subjects.
  • We are allowing students to design, plan, construct, and then allowing them to write about it, reflect, problem solve, engage in visual-spatial reasoning. All skills that are proven to increase reading scores and help students to become literate learners.

In addition to problem solving, promoting positive math mindsets, and having the opportunity to build knowledge and understanding in new ways, I believe that Makerspaces have the powerful opportunity to begin to promote equity for students in our school systems.


Deborah McCallum


Globalization: Friend or Foe of Modern Learning?


Globalization has contributed to an amazing realm of possibility for modern education. But we can’t always assume it is always beneficial. We need to take critical stances as educators, and help ourselves, and our learners, to question what people say and write online. Question the motivations of others. While Globalization is amazing and the reason why we are emerging into new Modern Learning paradigms, Globalization can also be disparaging if we are not careful.

Perhaps the greatest friend of our 21st century is globalization, but it is also a foe in how it can scripts us, and re-script our histories. I have a growing concern that concepts and movements, and new trends have the potential to powerfully script new realities to benefit the privileged, white, heterosexual middle class. For instance, Growth Mindsets have become something other than what Carol Dweck originally intended for some educators. I believe that globalization practices, including social media, when there are no critical voices, have the ability to promote messages that might not be true. The concepts, ideas, and realities become something completely different than what was originally intended.

As educators, it is also important to ensure that our present does not replace and re-script the realities of our country’s history, especially that of our First Nations, Metis & Inuit, through globalization practices. Beyond assimilation, when we keep adding our own layers of understanding without critical stances, we are at risk of becoming scripted. For instance, the Legend of the 2 Wolves is a popular teaching tool in elementary schools. I have no idea if it is genuine or not, but I also have never checked this story out with any FNMI communities. According to this article, there are no local communities that this tale comes from. It is apparently not even a Native story. It becomes popular. We re-script our history.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an excellent example of how we can harness the power of globalization to teach people about Canada’s past, and present. I hope that this will not become re-scripted.

If educators are change-agents, then re-scripting new concepts and movements to continue ‘normalized’ teaching and learning practices will only serve to benefit the privileged. This in turn negates real change, and continues to maintain supportive and empowering spaces for the status quo. It also Supports schools as harmful spaces for oppressed groups.

The remedy? Not easy, but a good start is to always taking a critical stance. Always question from who and where the information is coming from. Questioning our own biases and learning how our own biases shape the information we choose to hear and give privilege to in our learning environments.

What do you think?


Deborah McCallum

c 2016



To Benefit Student Learning: Facilitating New Opportunities for Collaborative Inquiry, Action Research, Innovation


Today, it is imperative that we make changes to our traditional school paradigms to meet the learning needs of our students for today and their futures.

We need to reimagine how we structure our schools to promote ongoing daily collaboration opportunities for teachers for the purposes of planning, with the explicit goal of improving student learning.

I think we can take steps toward this by restructuring and reimagining the spaces and roles of our Teacher-Librarians and Planning Time Teachers.

In the spirit of

  • sharing ideas,
  • innovating,
  • integrative thinking
  • collaborative inquiries
  • being better together
  • new pedagogies 
  • making school different
  • Teachers Throwing out Grades
  • Cultivating Growth Mindsets
  • New Literacies

This is what I think we should try to promote more contextualized and skills-based learning for students and teachers alike.

We need to re-think the roles that operate within our schools to make change. We really need to think ‘outside the box’. How can schools and mindsets change when we continually find ourselves in situations where set roles, believes, and physical structures of our schools promote the status quo.

I wanted to share an idea I have had for quite some time now. 

It is important to share ideas. If I am unable to make this change, then perhaps others will be inspired and have the opportunity! What I know, is that it is very difficult to be integrative, innovative and implement new pedagogies, especially when the roles that operate within the school are as set as the building itself.

Public Libraries are successful because they work in teams running fixed and flexible schedules all the time! This is a great benefit to the communities they service. What if our schools did the same thing?

First, I believe that we are not harnessing the true potential and power of the Planning Time Teacher. We know that we need to integrate learning among subjects. What value is there in a planning time teacher going into a classroom for 2 or 3 short blocks of time a week?

Second, teachers do not have enough time to meet with others in the school to collaborate with inquiry teams.

Next, Equitable Access to the Learning Commons is not possible with one Teacher-Librarian. Resources need to be accessible to all students, and wouldn’t it be great if we could make the Learning Commons open at all times of the day, including recesses, lunch hours and after school?

What if all classes in the school had access to iPads, computers, to drop in and work on projects at any time, in addition to the ability to engage in activities and learning including coding, makerspaces and genius hour and collaborative inquiries? What if the resources were there, and could be utilized on a flexible AND fixed schedule at the SAME time?

So many libraries do not have computers for students to drop in and use, and flexible times are not available when students could be working on projects and gaining equal access to technology ie., before school, recesses, and after school. What can we do to provide more access to students working before school, at recesses, and after school?

Finally, what if planning time teachers and teacher librarians merged to become ‘Library Teams’ with all of the resources at your finger tips, multiple classes, multiple schedules making the library ‘hub’ what it is supposed to be according to our OLA and CLA documents?


Here are some of my driving questions:

  1. What if we did not have traditional planning time teachers?
  2. What if the role of the TL evolved?
  3. What if the 2 roles of planning time and TL were not separate, but integrated?
  4. What if we had library teams instead of separate planning time and TL roles. I realise that many TL’s also do planning time, but that is not what I am talking about.
  5. If the expertise of the planning time teacher was integrated with that of the Librarian, would we then have a situation where we could have the library open all day, every day?
  6. Could we engage in and cultivate integrative, creative, innovative, collaborative inquiries and action research across students and staff?
  7. If the space of the library was shared among teams of Librarians, much like a Public Library, could free up significant chunks of time each week for teachers to engage in collaborative inquiries, action research and innovative and effective instructional design?

A New Model of the Learning Commons & Planning Time to Benefit the whole School:

What I would love to see is the Learning Commons open to all students all day long, and with multiple people being responsible for collaborating and providing cool programs for everyone in the school.

I envision classes coming down to the Learning commons to engage in anything from makerspaces, genius hour, and learning key literacy skills that are essential for students in our age of information. This can happen because the planning time teachers and Librarian are now ‘Library Teams’. Students could be actively involved in their own collaborative inquiries and actively involved in self-reflection and feedback processes.

With multiple teachers on the library team, this would also free up longer blocks for teacher teams to meet and collaborate – which is necessary to run collaborative inquiries, engage in action research, enhance professional development and promote & sustain innovative practices. The comments, feedback and expectations covered would be based on needs and interests of students, which requires skill from the teachers, and drives collaborative inquiries for the students and parents.

The enormous jobs of the Learning Commons could all be managed by the team, instead of one person. This could lead to more inclusion of more staff and students, in addition to allowing for all of the enormous jobs of the Learning Commons to be taken care of.

In conclusion, the Library Learning Commons would never have to close. Equitable access to technology including iPads and laptops whenever students needed them for work, whether it is before school, at recess time or after school. This is a key element of bridging the digital divide. Everyone on the team would know how to run, manage and provide support for information literacy skills at all times of the day.


If I could, this would be my new Collaborative Inquiry.This is how I would Make School Different! This would be part of my New Pedagogies for Deep Learning! This is how I would Innovate, put more emphasis on feedback vs grades, and promote growth mindsets!

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks to Brian Aspinall for asking this great question in his post: How Can You Assess My Creativity? Here is his question: How do we stimulate creative inquiry with prescribed makerspace activities?

Deborah McCallum

c 2015