What if instead of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, we redefined the core academic skills as Reading, Writing, and Mathing? Imagine classrooms where all students are encouraged to be mathers. What is a mather? A mather is a person who uses mathematics to make sense of the world. With so many people opting out of mathematics because of the myth that some are born with “math brains” and others are not, it is important to establish a norm that math is for everyone. If we start by changing our language, students can see that even if they don’t choose to be mathematicians they can still keep mathing.
We must make it a practice to highlight all the ways we use math everyday and help students experience success with math tasks. Math talk should also take place outside of the designated math block, which demonstrates that math is everywhere. Mathematizing stories and the world around them allows students to experience math in ways that are long lasting. Students must engage with relevant contexts and experience mathematics in ways that are inviting, without time pressures and ideals of perfection. Even toddlers would choose the hand that has three snacks over the hand that has one, so it’s safe to say that we were all born with mathematical minds.
In order to build a community where math is celebrated and enjoyed, we must encourage collaboration. Teachers benefit from planning together, solving problems together, and exploring new ways of mathing together. As we step outside of our comfort zones, we can model for students how to take deep breaths before new challenges, how to view mistakes as growth opportunities, and how to ask for help when we really need it. We can establish a class culture where students view one another as experts, choose appropriate tools to support their understanding, and boldly justify their reasoning and critique the reasoning of others.
Teachers’ math identity development has a direct impact on students’ identities and math achievement. As the adults in their lives, we owe it to our students to be reflective so we can address our own math anxiety and show compassion for those around us experiencing it. Building a math culture and community focused on preparing all students for college, career, and beyond is grounded in the belief that all students can learn mathematics and need math for life. Look in the mirror and ask yourself how you can lead the way with reframing mathematics to help others believe math is for everyone. It is time to celebrate that we are all Mathers!
Deborah Peart is the founder and CEO of My Mathematical Mind. With over 30 years in the field of education, Deborah speaks on a variety of topics related to math identity, elementary math content and instruction, and literacy connections to mathematics. As a master facilitator and content developer, she supports teachers, coaches, and instructional leaders across the nation. Deborah has dedicated her career and doctoral studies to supporting educators with innovative teaching strategies that allow students to see themselves as assets to the learning community and curious problem-solvers. Deborah believes that all children deserve high quality instruction and the opportunity to become competent readers, writers, and mathers.