Book Club, Stage 4: Disciplinary Thinking

Are you good at mathematics?


The Smartest Kids in the World has me thinking a lot about the different disciplines, especially math. Sure, kids have “favorite” subjects ranging from Art to Science, depending on the kid and usually on the quality of the teacher. But for some reason there is an assumption that some people are just “good at math” while others are not. I hear kids and adults say it all the time. Math scares many people beginning somewhere around middle school.

I just went to a bakery and paid with cash. It was $7.62. I gave the cashier a five, two ones and change. She actually struggled with the BILLS(!). 5 + 2 = 7! And she said nervously, “Sorry, sometimes the math throws me off.”

Ripley attributes this belief about mathematics as a major cause for the United States’ very low rank in mathematics on the PISA test. I’ve never considered looking at examples of other countries where this belief in innate ability does not exist.

She writes,

“Something was very different about how math was taught in Korea…The teacher wove trigonometry and calculus into the (geometry) lesson, following the thread of the lesson across disciplines, as though geometry were just one solar system in a larger universe of math…In Korea, math moved fluidly. When the teacher asked questions, the kids answered as if math were a language that they knew by heart.” (p.76)

That sounds beautiful. Let’s counter the notion that math is something that you are either good at or not! When you hear someone say this, especially a student, take the time to explain that this belief is simply untrue and that with practice, they can be good, too!


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