A MOOC for How to Learn Math(s)

I can thoroughly recommend the MOOC, by Prof Jo Boaler on the Stanford EdX platform “EDUC115N How to Learn Math.” It is available until Sept 27th and you can start it anytime until then. Whilst I have started other MOOCs and not got past the first section, I found this one so compelling that I stayed up late into the night and pounced immediately when they released the next section.

According to the course info:

The purpose of this course is to help parents, teachers, administrators and others learn important research ideas that will help students learn mathematics effectively.

The course gives an accessible and jargon-free explanation of some of the research in maths learning and gets you to think about how you’d relate that to your own practice, either as a teacher or as a parent helping their child with homework.

Why do I think it’s so important? There are a number of reasons:

1- The course gets you to think about how people get negative messages about maths and why people can be so strongly affected by them. Within this there was an excellent section on stereotype threat which brought in a number of aspects I wasn’t previously aware of. You also consider how powerful mindset is and the sorts of techniques you can use to try to change mindset (this is based on the work of Carol Dweck – ref below).

2. There was a good discussion about how to handle mistakes and some accompanying videos of a classroom teacher putting this theory into practice. This is something I find really difficult – I want to jump in with the right answer rather than guide them towards realising how to get to the answer.

3. There were hints and tips (incl video demonstration) of how to encourage students to communicate their answers in different ways, visual, verbal, diagrammatic, symbolic etc. This is a really important skill which is often neglected. It also showed the importance of getting students to explain different ways of reaching an answer and valuing those different perspectives.

4. The course considered how to help develop a positive attitude about maths. I don’t think I can do it justice here – you really need to watch the videos.

Some excellent references:

Paul Lockhart’s: A Mathematician’s Lament

Steele, Claude M. (2011).  Whistling Vivaldi:  How stereotypes affect us and what we can do (issues of our time). New York, NY:  W. W. Norton and Company.

Dweck, Carol S. (2007).  Mindset:  The new psychology of success.  New York, NY:  Random House.

Jo Boaler’s book “Elephant in the Classroom” covers much of this course’s material.


About JennyAKoenig

I specialise in science education and communication. Projects have included maths education for bioscientists, study skills for scientists with specific learning difficulties and pharmacology: bringing the science behind how medicines work (or don't!) to a wider audience. I have a PhD in Pharmacology from the University of Cambridge and a BSc (Hons 1) from the University of Sydney. Until Sept 2015 I divided my time between my science education and communication consultancy Science ETC (see www.sci-etc.co.uk) and teaching at Lucy Cavendish College (where I was a Fellow). I am now a secondary science and maths teacher.
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3 Responses to A MOOC for How to Learn Math(s)

  1. Hazel Corradi says:

    I have also done this course and thought it interesting, entertaining, and very helpful.

  2. Suzi Wells says:

    Just to echo the comments here – I thought this was a great course and found the classroom videos particularly helpful. It seems like a MOOC that doesn’t need to be a timed event (there’s little meaningful interaction with other participants) so I wonder if they might make it into an open resource.

  3. Vicki Tariq says:

    If you missed out on the MOOC, try reading Jo Boaler’s book, “The Elephant in the Classroom”. I’m two thirds of the way through it and can thoroughly recommend it. It is totally jargon-free and extremely easy to read – in fact, I’m having difficulty putting it down! I’ve also found myself reflecting on my own experiences of being taught maths at primary and secondary levels in England – the traditional way and not exactly pain-free.

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