Status & Mindset Interventions


In her book Strength in Numbers: Collaborative Learning in Secondary Mathematics, Ilana Horn writes:


“Judgements about who is smart based on prior achievement or social categories violate

a fundamental principle of equity and are consequential: learning is not the same as

achievement” (2012, p.20). 

When students experience mathematics classes that emphasize competition, procedures and speed over conceptual understanding they often compare themselves to others and feel that they are not a math person. Additional toxic messages may come from the implicit biases about who is good at math from parents, teachers, and images in our broader culture that usually portray mathematicians as white and male. These biases are often internalized by students and can create status issues in the classroom. But don't take it from us, here are students explaining how it feels in their own words.

8th grade students share about their past math experiences.

8th grade students share about their current experience in a student centered classroom.

How can we address status issues?

Three big ideas guide our Mathematical Agency Improvement Community.

  • Everyone is a math person. Humans developed the tools of mathematics to explore the world around us. We notice patterns, ask questions, seek to understand underlying structures, critique different ideas, and design models to represent our thinking. We recognize that ALL students have mathematical ideas to contribute, and it is our job to recognize and celebrate these ideas.

  • Mathematics is a collaborative discipline. When our classes are set up so that students can use and develop their innate mathematical abilities – noticing patterns, engaging in discussion about mathematical ideas, creating models to represent their thinking, inventing problem solving strategies, and critiquing each other's thinking – they build their mathematical identity.

  • When students can bring their full mathematical selves into the classroom and have their ideas heard, discussed, debated, and valued, they develop a mathematical identity and agency. When students believe that their ideas have value for the community they feel a sense of belonging. When they have opportunities to reflect on their learning and see mistakes as valuable they develop a growth mindset, and when they feel intellectually engaged they feel that math is relevant to their identity.

Students discuss fixed and growth mindsets and how they apply to their math experiences.

Students discuss their beliefs about themselves and their math abilities after experiencing a student centered math class. 

The resources below were curated to help teachers and students redefine what it means to be "smart" in math and support the disruption of harmful status issues that often prevent robust learning communities from developing in their classrooms.