Developing  Mathematical (Growth) Mindset



I’m not good at this.

What am I missing?

I give up.

I’ll use a different strategy.

It’s good enough.

Is this really my best work?

I can’t make this any better.

I can always improve.

This is too hard.

This may take a little time.

I made a mistake.

Mistakes help me learn.

I just can’t do this.

I can train my brain.

I’ll never be that smart.

I can learn how to do this.

My plan doesn’t work.

There’s always plan B.

My friend can do it.

I will learn from them.

Often students perceive messages that they are not good at math or they hear from other people who say they are not good at math.  Research does not support the idea that only some people are born with a highly developed math brain. There is a spectrum of flexible predispositions that people hold with respect to further developing, for example, their math proficiency, their mathematical self-identify, their mathematical curiosity, etc. (See also Supporting Families).

Researchers have established a clear connection between the attitudes that students have towards mathematics and how well they perform mathematically. For example, Pajares and Kranzler (1995) found that the belief that one is capable of doing mathematics (self-efficacy) is a better predictor of senior mathematics achievement than is prior math achievement. Similarly, Bruce and Ross (2010) established that Ontario students’ belief in their mathematical abilities is an important determinant of their achievement. (See also the Ministry of Education from Ontario’s brief on establishing a growth mindset: “Yes I Can” .1)

Mathematical Mindsets:2


One of the most damaging mathematics myths propagated in classrooms and homes is that math is a gift, that some people are naturally good at math and some are not.
(Boaler,  2013)
In her study of four high-performing Grade 9 Applied Mathematics classrooms, Macaulay (2015) found that many students began the course with a fractured relationship with mathematics and mathematics learning and a poor sense of themselves as math learners. Their teachers made it a priority to build student confidence and saw their first order of business as helping students see themselves as capable and competent people and as capable and competent math learners. Once students began to think of themselves in this way, they began to thrive in the classroom.3


B.C.’s provincial Auditor-General report (2015), “highlighted the impact of the racism of low expectations [for Indigenous learners]” (Bellringer, 2019, p. 13, original emphasis).4

Just as it is important to move our pedagogical view from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning, we also wish to focus on creating learners rather than students of mathematics as illustrated in this chart:

Student Learner
  • people at school
  • sitting in a classroom potentially doing very little or nothing
  • hears but does not process
  • completes work and potentially rushes doing so
  • motivated by rewards
  • thinks but does not reflect
  • focused
  • completes tasks with an investment of time and effort
  • sets goals
  • exercises their brain
  • asks thoughtful questions
  • learns from their mistakes
  • shares their thinking
  • takes on challenges
  • accepts feedback
  • is engaged
  • reflects
  • has self-efficacy (believes that they are capable)


1Ontario Ministry of Education. (2018). Yes, I can! Paying Attention to Well-Being in the Mathematics Classroom. Capacity Building K–12, Special Edition # 48, January 2018 (p. 1) . Pamphlet can be downloaded directly at
2 Ohio State University. (2014, December 10). It doesn’t add up: People who say they are good at math, but aren’t. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 19, 2020 from
3 Macaulay, A. (2015). Effective practices in Grade 9 Applied Mathematics (Doctoral dissertation).
4 Bellringer, C. (2019). Progress audit: The education of Aboriginal students in the B.C. public school system. Victoria, B.C.: Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia.
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