Growth Mindset: my journey with math (2023)

Growth Mindset: my journey with math (1)

In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck (2006) recounts an experience that cemented her fixed mindset—a teacher in elementary school organised her entire class around IQ scores. She doesn’t mention exactly where she fit in among her peers, but it doesn’t matter. The point is that by lining up the students according to IQ, the teacher made one thing very clear: your intelligence as measured by an IQ test is how I define you.

I have to admit that I had never heard about fixed or growth mindset before beginning the UBC Teacher Education Program. And perhaps you as a reader have also not heard of it, so for your sake, I’ll briefly explain.

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Someone with a fixed mindset is otherwise known as a perfectionist. It’s the belief that appearing ‘correct’ or ‘right’ or ‘capable’ is paramount. It’s the idea that some people are born with innate talents and that they do not have to try as hard as other people to achieve success in those areas because of their talent.

A growth mindset, on the other hand is the belief that challenges and difficulties, and even failing, are things to embrace and be excited by. Looking good or proving yourself to other people is not as important as overcoming an obstacle to achieve something. It’s the idea that it takes a lot of practice and hard work to learn how to do anything very well, and people succeed because they put in the effort.

My mindset

I can remember the moment when Miriam Miller, the instructor for my EPSE 308 course on Human Development, described fixed vs. growth mindset in class. I had a lightbulb moment: I have a fixed mindset.

My entire life I’ve been fixated on the idea that if something is easy, it must mean I’m talented and if something is difficult, it must mean that I’m not talented.

(Video) Growth Mindset for students - Episode 1/5

In hunting down the genesis of my own fixed mindset, I tried to think of a similar experience to Dweck’s teacher lining her up according to IQ.

I failed grade 1

For starters, I failed grade one, and that left its mark on me. I became driven to prove to myself and everyone else that I wasn’t ‘stupid.’ I was obsessed with my grades from then on, and remember poring over my report cards, euphoric from positive comments and devastated by anything that approached criticism.

In her research, Dweck (1999) has seen “over and over that children who had maladaptive achievement patterns were obsessed with their intelligence—and with proving it to others.” Reading this, I felt exposed, dismayed and… curious. Could a life’s worth of academic pursuits be chocked up to ‘maladaptive achievement patterns?’ In other words, a need to prove myself? I have to admit, it could very well be possible. I grew up in low income housing with a single mom. The rest of my larger extended family wasn’t much better off, and neither were my neighbours. I knew that to escape I needed to go to university and become a scientist. That was the plan.

The problem was, I wasn’t good at math. By grade 5 I still didn’t know basic multiplication (everyone knew their multiplication tables by grade 5 back in the 1980s).

One summer my grandmother spent hours drilling me in my multiplication tables, and although I resisted, I was proud when I was able to recite them. Thank you, Grandma! However, that one positive experience didn’t magically unlock math for me. I failed grade ten math, and passed grade eleven math by the skin of my teeth. Despite this, I graduated with honours because other than math, school was ‘easy’ for me.

And there we come back again to my fixed mindset. I truly believed at the time that I wasn’t a ‘math person’ simply because it was difficult for me. According to Brock and Hundley (2016), students with a fixed mindset believe that “if you aren’t naturally gifted at something or don’t catch on to it right away, you might as well forget it” (p. 12).

That was me in a nutshell. School was easy for me, because I chose subjects I was good at, and avoided at all costs the subjects I found challenging. Math was a requirement to graduate, and therefore the thorn in my side.

(Video) With Math I Can

Your ‘God-Given Gifts’

This idea that something should be easy if it’s a natural ability, and difficult if it’s not what you’re ‘meant’ to do is a form of magical thinking, which is a topic I’ve written on previously in my blog. It stems from this idea that our skills are given to us. Whether by God or be genetics, the person didn’t need to work as hard as others to hone their skill.

This is patently false! Someone who becomes a professional basketball player or violin player has spent their entire lives practicing, learning and improving. Of course there are bodily and intelligence attributes that incline certain people, but to say it was easy for them is just not true. To say they didn’t struggle is not true.

The difference is that they saw their struggle as part of the process of becoming the best they could be. Whereas someone like me, who believed I was simply not a ‘math person’ saw the struggle as a sign I should give up.

Mindset and mental health

Eventually, I did go to university to study psychology, but I struggled terribly with anxiety. In researching growth mindset for this paper, I discovered that the latest research has found a strong link between mindset and mental health (Schleider & Weisz, 2018, 2016). Students who have a fixed mindset have higher rates of anxiety and depression, and interventions in mindset can reduce risks of mental health problems. Did my fixed mindset contribute to my anxiety? I’m absolutely positive it did, but what caused my fixed mindset in the first place?

What caused my fixed mindset?

Was my obsession around my grades caused by a fixed mindset, or was my fixed mindset caused by the system of grading I grew up in? BC’s New Curriculum is leading the world in its approach to descriptive, strength-based assessment. At the beginning of this term, we debated the new style of assessment in one of our courses, and when I argued that I found satisfaction and pride in getting good grades as a kid, one of my cohort-mates told me point-blank, “That’s because you were brainwashed to think that way.” Honestly, I was offended at the time, but after learning about growth mindset and considering my past experience, I wonder if strength-based assessment could have made a positive difference for me.

Steps forward

In any case, while descriptive assessment probably would have helped, I don’t think a simple change in assessment would have been enough. I believe that growth mindset pedagogy must be embedded in the curriculum and materials to make a real impact.

A strong example of growth mindset curriculum design came to me in my current work as classroom assistant for H.U.M., a community program that offers free UBC courses to people from the Downtown Eastside.

Working there since September, I’ve been shocked by the content students are expected to read. These are street-entrenched people, some of whom have severe mental health and addiction issues, many of whom have no formal education, and we’re reading Michel Foucault and Berthold Brecht.

(Video) Class Dojo's Growth Mindset Series - Episode 2

When I first started the job, the teacher in me was yelling, ‘What about scaffolding? What about ensuring their success to maintain their motivation?’ However, when we discuss the work in class, people are engaged, and most have done at least part of the readings. People who haven’t done the readings learn from those who have because the classroom is a safe space where people are truly accepted no matter where they come from.

When I asked Margot Butler (2019), the Director, about her choice in readings and my concern students might not understand them, she said, “We don’t do any handholding at H.U.M. We have high expectations of our students, and when we hold them to those high standards, they reach up to meet them.”

This echoes Dweck, who says that “Many educators think that lowering their standards will give students success experiences, boost their self-esteem, and raise their achievement. […] Well it doesn’t work. Lowering standards just leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise” (p. 293).

My pedagogical stance

My experiences at H.U.M. have made me consider not only the standards I’ll set in my classroom, but what type of materials I’ll use. I want to avoid content created for kids, and find ways to adapt and incorporate real-world materials, and adult books, journals, magazines and videos for my middle school classroom.

I’m also committed to improving my own mindset, to be more growth-oriented. One good area to start is withmy nemesis: math. Earlier this year, I had to take a pre-calculus algebra math course as a prerequisite for the teacher program. I had failed the same course the year before, and deferred my entry to the teacher program as a result.

I hadn’t done math in over twenty years, and was beyond rusty. I remember telling my friend that I wasn’t good at math, and her telling me, “You’re not good,yet.” At the time I felt patronized by that statement. And when my tutor kept telling me I was a lot better than I thought, I didn’t believe him. Even when I passed that course with 80%, I attributed that to the tutor helping me study for three months.

It wasn’t until writing this about growth mindset that I started to believe that maybe they were right. Am I a math whizz? By no means! But I made great strides and I know for a fact I can use my own personal math story to inspire my students who struggle with math.


Learning about growth mindset has been a profound experience, like finding a frame within which I can see my entire life in a different way. I can see many years of struggles and issues with self-esteem and mental health suddenly making sense. Not to say that a fixed mindset caused all of my issues—absolutely not—but a growth mindset definitely feels like part of the solution, and I’m committed to and excited about implementing a growth mindset pedagogy in my classroom.

(Video) Boosting Math


Brock, A., & Hundley, H. (2017). The growth mindset playbook: A teacher’s guide to promoting student success. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.

Butler, M. (2019, October). Personal interview conducted by Shalon Sims at H.U.M. Learn more at:

Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. London; New York; Constable & Robinson.

Dweck, C. S. (1999). Caution–praise can be dangerous.American Educator, 23(1), 4.

Schleider, J., & Weisz, J. (2018). A single-session growth mindset intervention for adolescent anxiety and depression: 9-month outcomes of a randomized trial.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 59(2), 160-170. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12811

Schleider, J. L., & Weisz, J. R. (2016). Reducing risk for anxiety and depression in adolescents: Effects of a single-session intervention teaching that personality can change.Behaviour Research and Therapy, 87, 170-181. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2016.09.011

(Video) Growth Mindset in Math



How do you do a growth mindset in math? ›

5 Simple Ways to Develop a Mathematical Growth Mindset
  1. believe that intelligence can be developed.
  2. focus on learning vs. getting the “right” answer.
  3. don't give up and try new strategies if something doesn't work.
  4. reflect and learn from mistakes.

How can growth mindset help us in learning mathematics? ›

A growth mindset helps students understand that their abilities in math can improve and are not limited due to things out of their control such as their genes, gender, or socioeconomic status.

How does your growth mindset impact your math class? ›

In sum, the research suggests that students with growth mindsets are willing to put in effort even when they struggle or fail, and they stay focused on what they can learn. These behaviors result in better math performance over time.

What is a growth mindset your answer? ›

Having a growth mindset means believing that a person's abilities aren't innate but can be improved through effort, learning, and persistence. A growth mindset is all about the attitude with which a person faces challenges, how they process failures, and how they adapt and evolve as a result.

What is your math mindset? ›

A mathematical mindset reflects an active approach to mathematics knowledge, in which students see their role as understanding and sense making. Number sense reflects a deep understanding of mathematics, but it comes about through a mathematical mindset that is focused on making sense of numbers and quantities.

How can I improve my thinking skills in math? ›

How to improve math skills
  1. Wrap your head around the concepts. ...
  2. Try game-based learning. ...
  3. Bring math into daily life. ...
  4. Implement daily practice. ...
  5. Sketch word problems. ...
  6. Set realistic goals. ...
  7. Engage with a math tutor. ...
  8. Focus on one concept at a time.
1 Nov 2021

Why is mathematics important to learn to know support your answer? ›

Mathematics provides an effective way of building mental discipline and encourages logical reasoning and mental rigor. In addition, mathematical knowledge plays a crucial role in understanding the contents of other school subjects such as science, social studies, and even music and art.

What is the importance of growth mindset to you as a student? ›

When students adopt a growth mindset, they view challenges as ways of progressing toward their desired outcomes. Students who believe they can develop their talents and abilities see roadblocks and critical feedback as methods to gather information they could use to help themselves learn.

How does math help us in our life? ›

Preparing food. Figuring out distance, time and cost for travel. Understanding loans for cars, trucks, homes, schooling or other purposes. Understanding sports (being a player and team statistics)

How does math benefit you in the future? ›

Math helps us have better problem-solving skills

Math helps us think analytically and have better reasoning abilities. Analytical thinking refers to the ability to think critically about the world around us. Reasoning is our ability to think logically about a situation.

What is a growth mindset examples? ›

Example 1:

Fixed Mindset: I'm either good at something or I'm not. Growth Mindset: I can improve my skills with effort and practice. Tip: Ask children if they have ever struggled to master a skill, and then improved over time. Examples may include reading, writing neatly, riding a bike, or playing an instrument.

How do you answer the growth mindset question? ›

An interviewer might ask this question to see whether you've reflected on your previous position and have identified any areas where you can improve in your next role. Answer the question by first describing what you did best, followed by the areas where you can improve and how you plan to improve them.

What is a growth mindset for students? ›

Students with a growth mindset believe that ability can change as a result of effort, perseverance, and practice. You might hear them say, “Math is hard, but if I keep trying, I can get better at it.” Students with a growth mindset see mistakes as ways to learn, embrace challenges, and persist in the face of setbacks.

What are 3 example questions you can ask yourself to develop a growth mindset? ›

What made you think hard today? How will you challenge yourself today? What can you learn from this experience or mistake? What would you do differently next time to make things work better?

Why are mathematical mindsets important? ›

Learners with stronger Math Mindsets are more likely to persist, for example, re-working challenging problems and discarding incorrect strategies. These positive attitudes toward figuring math out are beneficial for learning and making connections across concepts.

What math skills are needed for life? ›

According to respondents, the most important daily life skills that incorporate mathematics are budgeting (76.7%), computer use (64.8%), and understanding credit (58.1%).

Are people with mathematics mindset are more successful? ›

In contrast, those who have a 'growth' view of their mathematical ability and capacity to solve problems are likely to be more successful. In a growth mindset, people believe that their basic abilities can grow through their own efforts, hard work and dedication.

What is the most important skill in math? ›

Key Math Skills for School
  • Number Sense. This is the ability to count accurately—first forward. ...
  • Representation. Making mathematical ideas “real” by using words, pictures, symbols, and objects (like blocks). ...
  • Spatial sense. ...
  • Measurement. ...
  • Estimation. ...
  • Patterns. ...
  • Problem-solving.

How do I make myself smarter in math? ›

2 Attend every math class. 3 Listen closely during class . 4 Take notes during class. 5 Ask your math teacher for help if you're struggling.
Things You Should Know
  1. Listen closely and take detailed notes during math class. ...
  2. Before doing homework, review your class notes to solidify the information.

How can I make my mind sharp and intelligent in maths? ›

Practice simple math problems

Think again. According to experts, an addition or subtraction problem a day can keep cognitive decline away. Memory exercise: Solve a few simple math problems in your head each morning—no pencil, paper, or calculator allowed. To up the ante, try to walk or cook at the same time.

What is mathematics in your own words? ›

Mathematics is the science and study of quality, structure, space, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns, formulate new conjectures, and establish truth by rigorous deduction from appropriately chosen axioms and definitions.

What is the main purpose of math? ›

It gives us a way to understand patterns, to quantify relationships, and to predict the future. Math helps us understand the world — and we use the world to understand math. The world is interconnected.

What is the main point of growth mindset? ›

A growth mindset is “the understanding that abilities and understanding can be developed” (Mindset Works, n.d.). Those with a growth mindset believe that they can get smarter, more intelligent, and more talented through putting in time and effort.

How can a growth mindset help you achieve your goals? ›

A growth mindset is the belief that you can learn, change and improve with time and effort. People who have a growth mindset build up the strength to overcome challenges instead of giving up because they think they just don't have what it takes to succeed.

Why is it important to have growth mindset in our every day life? ›

Having a growth mindset is important because it can help you overcome obstacles you may face when learning something new or developing a new skill. Growth mindsets understand the importance of persistence and determination. By changing the way you think, you can change the way you learn.

Do you need math to be successful? ›

Although some jobs may require a basic understanding of math, there are plenty of jobs such as in the legal and service industries that don't require extensive math knowledge. Can you be successful without math? Yes, you can be successful without math. Math is important, but it is not the determinant factor to success.

What is a real life example of growth mindset? ›

Example 1: Running late and missing the bus or car pool

A growth mindset response will be to decide to go to bed earlier tonight, set an alarm and lay out your clothes and breakfast dishes in the evening itself, so that tomorrow can be better and different.

What are the 7 growth mindsets? ›

How to achieve a growth mindset in 7 steps
  • Learn about the concept of 'incremental success' ...
  • Embrace failure. ...
  • Listen out for your fixed mindset voice. ...
  • Change your language. ...
  • Seek outside help. ...
  • Accept feedback. ...
  • Keep going.
5 Sept 2019

Is growth mindset a skill? ›

A growth mindset is one of the most wanted soft skills of the year. This is all the more essential, with the increased automation and mechanization of most job sectors.

How do you achieve success with a growth mindset? ›

Those with growth mindsets embrace challenges, persist through obstacles, learn from criticism, and are inspired by the success of others. With the growth mindset, we can acknowledge our failures and find inspiration to keep improving. For example, getting a C- on a paper is not the end-all of your college career.

How do growth mindset students get smarter? ›

Students with a growth mindset understand they can get smarter through hard work, the use of effective strategies, and help from others when needed. It is contrasted with a fixed mindset: the belief that intelligence is a fixed trait that is set in stone at birth. SOURCE: MASTER, A. (2015).

How do you develop a growth mindset example? ›

10 ways to develop a growth mindset
  1. Identify your own mindset. ...
  2. Look at your own improvements. ...
  3. Review the success of others. ...
  4. Seek feedback. ...
  5. Harness the power of 'yet' ...
  6. Learn something new. ...
  7. Make mistakes. ...
  8. Be kind to yourself.
25 Apr 2022

What are 3 ways to develop a growth mindset? ›

Start cultivating and developing a growth mindset
  • Reflect each day on what you've failed at (and learned from) ...
  • Stop seeking approval from others. ...
  • Identify opportunities to celebrate the success of others. ...
  • Focus on rewarding actions, not traits. ...
  • Start using the word "yet" more often.
26 Jul 2021

What is a positive growth mindset? ›

Growth mindset describes a way of viewing challenges and setbacks. People who have a growth mindset believe that even if they struggle with certain skills, their abilities aren't set in stone. They think that with work, their skills can improve over time.

What are some personal growth questions? ›

The Process Of Personal Growth: 7 Questions You Should Ask...
  • “What was I doing a year ago?” ...
  • “Do I enjoy how I'm spending my time?” ...
  • “Who do I spend the most time with?” ...
  • “How is my money being spent?” ...
  • “What do I want to learn next?” ...
  • “How are my 5 buckets being filled?”
1 Dec 2018

What are the 4 key ingredients to a growth mindset? ›

Here are the four key ingredients to growth that you need to embrace when entering a growth mindset:
  • Effort. You need to know that you must put an effort in whatever you need to grow in, this is critical, important, useful and leads to growth.
  • Challenges. ...
  • Mistakes. ...
  • Feedback.
9 Mar 2020

What questions to ask to improve yourself? ›

Ask Yourself These 20 Questions to Improve Your Self-Awareness
  • What am I good at?
  • What am I so-so at?
  • What am I bad at?
  • What makes me tired?
  • What is the most important thing in my life?
  • Who are the most important people in my life?
  • How much sleep do I need?
  • What stresses me out?

What are mental strategies in maths? ›

What are mental maths strategies? Mental maths strategies are accepted ways of working maths out in your head that help us take shortcuts and get to the correct answer in an efficient way.

How do you develop a growth mindset in class? ›

10 Strategies for Fostering a Growth Mindset in the Classroom
  1. Normalize struggle. ...
  2. Encourage engagement with challenges. ...
  3. Embrace the word “yet”. ...
  4. Tout the value of hard tasks to the brain. ...
  5. Demonstrate mistakes and celebrate corrections. ...
  6. Set goals. ...
  7. Develop cooperative exercises. ...
  8. Provide challenges.
10 Dec 2020

What are the 4 main types of mathematical thinking? ›

3 Types of Mathematical Thought
  • Spatial/Geometric Reasoning. Spatial visualization involves the ability to image objects and pictures in the mind's eye and to be able to mentally transform the positions and examine the properties of these objects/pictures. ...
  • Computational Reasoning. ...
  • Logical/Scientific Reasoning.

What are three strategies for studying math? ›

If you follow these these Math study tips, your grades are likely to improve. Study outside of class regularly. Work on your Math homework or study your Math every day. Study your Math at least two hours for each hour in the classroom.

What are the 5 math strategies? ›

5 Essential Strategies in Teaching Math
  • Make math a part of the conversation. Gone are the days when students memorized hundreds of formulas and concepts without even being willing to understand the logic behind them. ...
  • Make math fun with games. ...
  • Be proactive. ...
  • Organize quizzes. ...
  • Consider evaluating your teaching approach.
26 Nov 2021

How can I improve my growth mindset skills? ›

10 ways to develop a growth mindset
  1. Identify your own mindset. ...
  2. Look at your own improvements. ...
  3. Review the success of others. ...
  4. Seek feedback. ...
  5. Harness the power of 'yet' ...
  6. Learn something new. ...
  7. Make mistakes. ...
  8. Be kind to yourself.
25 Apr 2022

How can I learn growth mindset at home? ›

One of the best ways you can model a growth mindset is to speak candidly about the mistakes you've made, and what you've learned from them. Speak positively about your mistakes and struggles, and this will show your children that taking risks and making mistakes are a natural part of the learning process.


1. Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck
(Stanford Alumni)
2. September 30th Webinar - Growth Mindset: The foundation to Success in Mathematics
(AMATYC YouTube)
3. Dylan's Maths mindset journey
(St Catherine's Paisley)
4. Class Dojo's Growth Mindset Series - Episode 3
5. How to Build a Growth Mindset (3 Tips)
(Top Tier Math)
6. LearnStorm Growth Mindset: The Truth About Your Brain
(Khan Academy)
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