Episode #39: Everyone Can Learn Math: An Interview with Alice Aspinall
We are excited to bring you this episode with Alice Aspinall, author of the children’s book Everyone Can learn Math. Alice is a high school math teacher here in the Windsor Ontario area. We chat with Alice about how her book is helping families change the way they talk about math at home.
- Why you should read Everyone Can Learn Math with your kids.
- Why it’s important to use positive language when talking about math
- Why a growth mindset is key to learning math
- How you can use Everyone Can Learn Math in your classroom
- What can your first day look like to start your students off on the right foot.
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Alice Aspinall: I was hearing more and more people with that negative attitude towards math and hearing a lot of, “I was never good at math, so I don’t expect my kids to be good at math.” A lot of really discouraging statements that I hate to hear. And so, at one point, I wanted to find a book to recommend to some friends that they could read to their children to instill more of a positive attitude-
Jon Orr: We are excited to bring you this episode with Alice Aspinall, author of the children’s book, Everyone Can Learn Math. Alice is a high school math teacher here in the Windsor, Ontario area, which is in our neck of the woods. We chat with Alice about how her book is helping families change the way they talk about math at home.
Kyle Pearce: Stick around so you can learn about why it’s important to use positive language when talking about math, why a growth mindset is key to learning mathematics, and how you can use her book in your classroom.
Jon Orr: Hit it!
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Math Moments That Matter Podcast. I’m Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I’m John Orr. We are two math teachers, who, together…
Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of educators worldwide, who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark engagement, fuel learning, and ignite teacher action. Are you ready to get going there, Jon?
Jon Orr: Of course. Of course, Kyle.
Kyle Pearce: Before we begin, we want to give a quick shout out to jdub_2, who left us a five-star rating and review on iTunes. Jdub_2 says…
Jon Orr: “Jam-packed with practical suggestions and real math teacher struggles. I just recently got into listening to podcasts, and this is my absolute favorite. Kyle and Jon offer so much practical advice and also inspire me for my own classroom. Love the special guests and hearing the success stories. I’m hooked and I’m quickly going through all episodes while prepping for the coming school year.”
Kyle Pearce: If you’ve been loving the podcast just like jdub, leave us a review on iTunes, and outline your biggest takeaway. Reviews help more educators hear about the show and, in turn, we can help make more math moments matter for students everywhere.
Jon Orr: Before we begin our discussion with Alice, we want to share that the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast is excited to bring you another giveaway, this time with Whitebook, our source for Whitebook FlipCharts. That’s right! You can easily post whiteboards anywhere, in your room, and easily take them with you wherever you go.
Jon Orr: Whitebook is offering you, the math moment in your community, the chance to win one of five Flipchart packs. Yes! One of five FlipChart packs by visiting makemathmoments.com/giveaway.
Kyle Pearce: Not interested in chancing it? You can also take advantage of a special 50% discount on FlipChart packs, by simply entering the giveaway. Enter that giveaway by visiting makemathmoments.com/giveaway, and you’ll see how you can take advantage of this special 50% off offer.
Jon Orr: Don’t delay. The giveaway and the 50% discount ends on Wednesday, August 28th, 2019. Head to makemathmoments.com/giveaway to get your name in the hat.
Kyle Pearce: Listening after Wednesday, August 28, 2019? Don’t sweat it! We’re always actively running giveaways. So check out that same link, makemathmoments.com/giveaway, regardless of when you’re listening to this episode, to learn about what we will be raffling off this month.
Jon Orr: Remember, you got to play to win! Dive in at makemathmoments.com/giveaway.
Kyle Pearce: That’s makemathmoments.com/giveaway. And now, here’s our chat with the author of Everyone Can Learn Math, Alice Aspinall.
Kyle Pearce: Hey, there, Alice, welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast, we are so excited to have you on the show today. How are things all the way on the other side of Belle River, Ontario?
Alice Aspinall: Good morning! Thanks for having me on. Everything is good. It looks like an overcast day, on my side of the road.
Jon Orr: Yeah, Alice is quite local for us. She is coming from the same town as Kyle, which is also only 15-20 minutes from my house. Alice, help our listeners understand a little bit more about yourself, other than that. Tell us a little bit about your background, a little bit about your teaching journey, your teaching story.
Alice Aspinall: Yes, I’ll be happy to. I started very early in life with the idea that I wanted to be a teacher. So I knew pretty early on. I didn’t know what kind of teacher, but I wanted to be a teacher. That I knew for sure. And at the end of high school, I finally decided I wanted to be a math teacher, so I actually started my undergrad in the Honors Math Program, currently with education. So I did them both at the same time, because I knew that that’s where I was headed.
Alice Aspinall: And while I was in university, studying my math degree, I stared tutoring children, mostly in elementary school, in math right away. So I did that for the full time I was doing my undergrad. And I did that in school, through an in-class tutoring program. And I did that also in private homes. So I had quite a bit of experience with the elementary math world, at that time.
Alice Aspinall: But I did end up going into teaching, at the high school level, and so, I got hired pretty quickly out of school, and started teaching right away. Now I’ve been teaching at the high school level for 11 years, mostly math, though I did teach English for a bit in there also, because I am qualified to teach English, as well.
Alice Aspinall: But I’ve done mostly math now, so that’s really where my passion lies in teaching math by day, at the high school level, and then, sort of on the side, I have this ongoing passion with the little ones, especially with my own two children now, too.
Kyle Pearce: Fantastic, fantastic. I’ve got to ask, back when you were doing your undergrad, and you were doing some tutoring in schools, did that happen to be through our current district? Some might not know this, but you and I both work at Greater Essex, here in Windsor, Essex, in Ontario. Was it through Greater Essex? Because I did something similar. Was it Ron Mutton, who did that with you? Was he the leader at the time?
Alice Aspinall: Yes, he was. But then, I continued after he retired. And then, a woman took over the program, Michelle, now, her name is escaping me, her last name. But yes, it was that program, yeah. So when I started with Ron, and then it switched over to someone else.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome! Super cool, yes. So you and I both participated in that same program. At the time, I didn’t think, I just looked at it as, “Hey, I did a tutoring job, and this is what I’m up to,” and it was in elementary, like you were saying. And I think, looking back on it, it gave me a lot of great PD for myself, just to expose myself, to where students were struggling.
Kyle Pearce: I don’t think I was very effective at it, at the time, to be honest. But I think I learned a lot. I’m not sure what your thoughts were after that experience.
Alice Aspinall: Yeah, you know what’s funny about that experience? I think back to that a lot now, and I didn’t know at the time, that what I was doing… I did a lot. I worked so many days a week while I was also studying, obviously.
Alice Aspinall: That was a bit revolutionary, because we took kids out in small groups. And I worked on them one on one. But we never did worksheets or repetitive work. I was creating games to have them have fun with math. They were often students who were struggling a little bit more, or didn’t have a lot of positive attitudes towards math. Those were the kids that I was often working with.
Alice Aspinall: But we were using games and some fun strategies to try to get those kids more interested, and develop some good habits. And not, when I think back to it now, because that was quite awhile ago, was a big deal, right? I think, at that time, they would have been doing a lot of worksheets in the classroom. But when I pulled them out, that’s not ever what we did.
Alice Aspinall: And so, I would hope that it was effective and worthwhile for those kids that I worked with. So often, I think it was a good learning experience for me now. I use some of those same games with my own kids now. And they were just games we made up, with counters, or playing cards, or I don’t know, lots of different manipulatives.
Kyle Pearce: I agree. Again, I didn’t really understand the intentionality, and I think I was just so new, and just fresh, because I was in my undergrad. I hadn’t even gone to teachers college yet. So you had done concurrent, whereas, I had done mine at the end of my degree.
Kyle Pearce: So I was doing this during my degree, so I had no teaching experience whatsoever, just like my own personal tutoring experience. And when I look back on those types of experience, oftentimes, it’s not the learning that happens in the moment. It’s the learning after you reflect in it.
Kyle Pearce: Sometimes, it’s days later, weeks later, but oftentimes, it’s years earlier, when you start to sort of have epiphanies and things like that. And that was one of the epiphanies I had, as well, was this idea that I was working with students, and we weren’t doing the things the way I was taught. So I thought was really cool to see.
Kyle Pearce: Now, I think that program’s sort of become something they call Curiosity Club in our district. And it’s an after school program, and they’re doing really, really cool things. Same type of approach, where they want it to be a fun, enjoyable way for students to learn, and to just brush up on some of their math skills, but doing it in a fun and nonthreatening sort of way.
Jon Orr: I also can relate, too, and I find this very interesting. And it makes me wonder about how many of us, how many teachers, when before they became teachers, or when their first experiences was with tutoring. That was my first co-op job also.
Jon Orr: I was in the Co-Op Program, which meant, every couple semesters, you were going out to work. And my first few were all tutoring jobs, and I was working at Humber College, tutoring college level students. But I wonder about that. How many of us are tutoring to start? I’m sure it’s a lot of us.
Jon Orr: And I’m getting that same kind of thing. We’re all trying different things, way back in that time. It’s kind of like, I remember having that thought. I wanted to change the way, what math was taught, and I hooked on the idea of hooking students from the get-go. Which just, is a shame later, because I think it dropped off after my first years.
Jon Orr: I was really concerned about getting my students to love math the first few years, and that fell by the wayside, when I had some experience. And then it’s only in the last, what, say, five years, where I’ve tried to make things different.
Jon Orr: But I was concerned about card tricks and games. And magic tricks were huge for me when I first started. It was like, “I got to start class with one of these every day, to kind of win over the kids over.” I thought that was a big thing when I first became a teacher.
Jon Orr: Let’s keep going down Memory Lane here, Alice. Being our, the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast, we have to ask you about your memorable math moment. So we want you to think back to your experience as a student in math class, and when we say, “Math class,” what pops into your brain?
Alice Aspinall: Oh, my goodness. My experiences in math class as a child are not very fun or positive at all. I don’t have a key moment where I thought I was having a lot of fun in class. It was very rigorous, repetitive work. I remember a lot of mad minutes, and funny enough, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it only because I was a good student. I wanted to please. I did what I was told. I was afraid to get in trouble, and so, I really enjoyed just sitting down with a good worksheet.
Alice Aspinall: But when I think back, there was nothing very enjoyable about any of that. I have one particular memory that always stands out to me. I was in grade three, and my class was in a portable outside. And I remember sitting at the table, and we were doing two-digit addition. And I remember a worksheet, and we had to do all of these in a row. And I was doing them, and I always did the algorithms, starting on the ones columns, and regrouping over.
Alice Aspinall: I remember not passing my one over to the next column, and getting it wrong, and then the student next to me was trying to tell me that I was wrong. And she was able to do it in her head. And I couldn’t figure out how she was adding these things in her head properly, because I couldn’t do any of those mental math strategies. It was just about doing the algorithm on paper, how I was taught, and so, if I made a mistake somewhere, I didn’t know why or how to fix that mistake. I couldn’t go back.
Alice Aspinall: And I just remember being in awe of this student, and how she was doing it in all her head properly. That really speaks to the lack of emphasis on that mental math, which I hope now, and I think now, is being emphasized a lot more. And I’m trying to bring that out in my own children, because that mental math is so important, when you’re learning higher level math later on.
Alice Aspinall: Yeah, so that, I didn’t have a lot of great exciting math experiences. Very traditional.
Jon Orr: Yeah, I totally get you with the mental math. And I’ve shared this before, because I didn’t have any mental math strategies when I was younger. And I think, as a math teacher, developing mental math strategies, so that you can do it quickly in the classroom has been a lifeline for me. But the interesting thing that I’ve also mentioned here is that those mental math strategies are not the way I’ve shown kids how to do calculations on paper.
Jon Orr: There are different ways that I’m doing them in my head, that I also, like you, share with my own kids, so that they can benefit from that. I also found it interesting that, when you said you liked that worksheet, and I also agree with you. Because I think a lot of us liked that. Like you said, we were good listeners, we didn’t want to get into trouble, we’re people pleasers, we excelled in math class.
Jon Orr: And I think it’s like we felt, and I was just trying to articulate that, what it was about, really enjoying those worksheets. Because you’ve got kids in your classrooms that also will say, “I really like doing that,” and I’d rather do more of that. And like you said, I think it’s like, what really is the enjoyment there? Is it really the worksheet that they’re enjoying?
Jon Orr: I think it’s come to me, that it’s like, the enjoyment comes because they feel safe, and they feel it’s easy. Or they can go, “I can work on this, and I can be in my little bubble. And I know that I will get it done, because I’ve done this in the past,” but it’s that safe kind of comfort feeling, that, “Hey, I’ve been successful here already, and I don’t mind doing this thing. Because it will be done by the time class ends.”
Jon Orr: We’ve experienced this before, and I know you’ve experienced this before, when you bring kids out of that safe environment, and you ask them to think out loud, or reason, or defend arguments. It’s all of a sudden a little unsafe, and some of our strong kids who are used to that worksheet are uneasy, and all of a sudden, it’s a different kind of classroom.
Alice Aspinall: Yes. I’m sure that you notice that the kids who really enjoy the worksheet, and the traditional learning model, are the students who have figured out how to do school well. They have figured out school, and how to comply, and so that is a comfort level for them, because that’s what they’re used to, and they have always succeeded in just learning that way. And they don’t really want to try anything new and different.
Alice Aspinall: I think that’s part of the growth mindset, too, which maybe we’ll talk about later. But they just are very happy doing well the way they’ve always done well.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, exactly, and I picture myself as that same student. I know that if my teachers ever tried to switch gears on me, I would have made the biggest fuss about it, because now it’s like, “Now, I got to re-learn all this!” And not re-learn the content, because I never understood the content, I just did the content, but re-learn how to be at least considered successful, at least from a grade standpoint.
Kyle Pearce: My grades said I was doing well, and that’s something that I think is really, really important. And I sort of want to make sure that people who are listening understand, you had mentioned things like tutoring and elementary, and working with your own children, who are younger. Their ages, you can let us know in a moment. I think you may have mentioned it a little earlier.
Kyle Pearce: But we’re all in the same sort of space here with our own children. However, you’re coming from the secondary classroom. Do you mind sharing a little bit of what you’re seeing going on in the secondary classroom, as to why all of this matters? And we will take a ride down through the growth mindset train, because we definitely want to share a wonderful resource that you’ve put together, and talk to you what’s inspired you about that.
Kyle Pearce: So let’s talk a little bit about the secondary classroom. In your own classroom, what’s raised your awareness to want to do some work, and start changing the way things were? Because my guess is, if you’re like John and I, you probably had a time in your career where you were teaching pretty similar to how we were taught, which may or may not have been as focused around that growth mindset, and around, really, making mathematics a little bit more of an active environment.
Alice Aspinall: Yes, definitely. So at the beginning of my teaching career, I would have been teaching in a much more traditional lecture style, than what I am now. It still has a place, in some cases, so I’m not saying that I don’t ever do it. Because I still do, especially in some of the higher grade levels. But the change really has been in my junior classes, so grades nine and 10.
Alice Aspinall: I’m trying to put an emphasis now on collaboration and discussions in math, a lot of math talk in the classroom. Because I know that teachers like to talk a lot about what happens in the real world. That’s always what teachers like to say, right? And I know that, in major corporations, if you’re working with any kind of math background, and when I say “math,” I can mean engineering and computer science all in there. It’s all in the same realm there.
Alice Aspinall: There’s group discussions at whiteboards, working out problems, come and tell me every day. That’s really what real life mathematics looks like in the business world. And I’m trying to bring that more into my classrooms, by using that thinking classroom approach. And so, we’re doing a lot of random groups, a lot of work up at the boards, and a lot of teaching through problem solving, rather than lecturing, and then, practicing.
Alice Aspinall: The model used to be very much like, I do, we do in partners, and then you do alone. But now, we’re changing that up, where they’re starting in groups, working on a problem immediately, to see how we can work on it. And then, topics come up, and there might be some direct instruction that happens in there, because it’s necessary, many times. But it’s all based on that problem solving model.
Jon Orr: For those of you listening, Alice is referring to some work done by Peter Liljedahl, which we talked to on Episode 19, and he talks about random grouping, and the research behind whiteboards on the walls. If you have not listened to that episode, you want to jump over to that. Actually, I think, Kyle, right, it’s our listened to episode so far this year, by a lot. So check that out.
Alice Aspinall: And rightfully so. That work in the math classroom changes the dynamic, it changes the culture, it just totally revamps the classroom into a happier atmosphere, which is what we all want in math. We don’t want to walk into a silent independent working classroom. That’s not a sign of good learning, in my mind. And so, I give a lot of praise to Peter and all of his work, because I really believe in it, and I do try to follow it, quite extensively.
Kyle Pearce: Yes, for sure, and I just want to do a quick correction. I think it was Episode Number 21. So we’ll put that in the show notes, as well. And yeah, you’re absolutely right, Alice. A big thing that I notice is, if people, especially secondary, find as secondary teachers… And Jon and I, and Alice, you’re a secondary teacher, as well. It is so challenging to get away from what we’ve always seen and done, especially since it’s so fresh in our minds.
Kyle Pearce: Elementary learning, it’s not as fresh in my mind, what it was like to be an elementary student. So I feel like, mixing that up changes things a little bit. And in elementary, it tends to be more activity-based, anyway. There’s this stigma that math class has to look a certain way, especially if we want it to be rigorous, or if we want it to be effective.
Kyle Pearce: And Peter’s method, even just by implementing the visible random grouping, as well as vertical non-permanent surfaces, as you mentioned, getting kids up at the whiteboards. To me, that seems like such an easy start, where I don’t even have to change anything about my actual math program. Not suggesting you never want to change it, but it’s like, I don’t have to go and do a ton of work. I can implement these changes in my class tomorrow, using whatever I had planned initially, and it’s like, that just gets the wheels moving.
Kyle Pearce: Did you feel like, when you started implementing that vertical non-permanent, that it just got you going, to see that, “Oh, wait a second. Maybe this could look differently. And then now, I can start focusing on making other changes as I go, instead of trying to make all these changes all at once.”
Alice Aspinall: Yes, I think the vertical nonpermanent surface is definitely the catalyst to get started on the thinking classroom. It’s probably the easiest in, and the one that you’re going to get the least pushback from. But ultimately, it’s not an easy change, if you’re used to having the traditional classroom. It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, and the students aren’t going to find it very comfortable, either, and so, you can expect pushback, in many ways.
Alice Aspinall: I always recommend that you start on day one, instead of starting in the middle on the semester. Because then you set the stage, and the culture in the classroom. It makes things far more easier, in terms of that pushback, if students understand that this is the norm in this classroom.
Jon Orr: I’m so glad that we had a chance here to talk a little bit about that. Because, as you know, and I think our listeners know, we love that model so much. And Peter’s work has been fabulous.
Jon Orr: I think we should turn our attention now to talk about your children’s book, Everyone Can Learn Math. We’ve recently seen, it’s been added to our Reader’s Choice Awards, so congratulations on that, for sure.
Alice Aspinall: Thank you, yes. It is in the Children’s Category. Thank you.
Jon Orr: Right, yeah, and we love that you’ve written this book, not only to help children see that they can learn math, with the right mindset, but I’m really enjoying that parents get that message too. I’m wondering if you can help our listeners a little bit understand about the origin story of the book, like, where did you get the inspiration to write this, and a little bit about how it came to be.
Alice Aspinall: The hope is that it reaches parents. Really, that’s my primary audience. I have young children, so my children now are four and six. And I have a lot of friends with young children, and I was, at the time, so we’re talking a year and a half ago, maybe, when this all began. I was hearing more and more people with that negative attitude towards math. I’m hearing a lot of, “I was never good at math, so I don’t expect my kids to be good at math,” like, a lot of really discouraging statements that I hate to hear.
Alice Aspinall: And so, at one point, I wanted to find a book to recommend to some friends, that they can read with their children, to instill a bit of, more of a positive attitude towards math. And you both are parents, so you know what I mean. We are big on books in my house. So there are books to help you with every stage in life, as your children are growing up, right?
Alice Aspinall: So if your children are potty training, you get them the potty training book. When my daughter was waiting to become a big sister, we got her the, You’re Going to be a Big Sister book, to help her transition, right? These self-help children’s books exist. And so, I thought, “Surely there must be one to help you with your mindset in math.” And so, I searched and searched, and I could not find anything. Nothing related to math, anyway.
Alice Aspinall: There are tons of growth mindset books in the market, but none specific to math. And so, that was what I was really looking for, and that’s where the idea came. So I started to look into how I might be able to do this and get this going on my own. I didn’t think, at the time, it was going to be a lot of work. It turns out, it’s a lot of work, and it continues to be a lot of work. But that’s where the initial idea came from.
Alice Aspinall: And the writing part wasn’t really relating to me, because I told you, I do have a little bit of an English background. So the writing wasn’t scary for me, it was the rest of the booking making process that was more difficult. So I had a good story, I felt good about the story. I sent it to Dr. Jo Boaler. She read it, she gave me some feedback, so I felt really good about the story itself.
Alice Aspinall: The making of the book was really the hardship for me, but now it’s here, and I’m quite happy with it. It’s got a lot of good reviews. A lot of parents are using it, so I think that it’s doing well, and it’s been well-received. I hope so, anyway.
Kyle Pearce: We’ve had Dr. Jo Boaler on the podcast. That was Episode 10. We’ll put a link in the show notes there. Obviously, her messaging is so important, I know it’s had an influence on Jon and I, just to think a little bit differently about math. So that is huge, and that message comes out loud and clear throughout the book. And I’m just thinking back to, you referenced this idea of, how with books, and there’s different stages of books, as kids are growing up.
Kyle Pearce: Something that I got out of that, and you referenced the potty training book. There’s two things going on, when we read to kids. There’s this idea of, we’re teaching them stories, whether it’s about morals, or about the Golden Rule, or it’s about how to do things in life, like you’re saying, like potty training. And it’s also doing this other thing, where, with books, at an early age, it’s like, it starts with all pictures. It’s just pictures, like picture books.
Kyle Pearce: Then it goes to pictures and one word, and then you get books that are pictures and a few words. And then it’s mostly words with one picture. And then, eventually, we get to a place where it’s all words, and I feel like, with math, we are missing both of those things, in many cases, right? Like, we’re missing this case where giving kids this opportunity to explore mathematics through, just concrete experiences and pictures, and then working their way to symbols.
Kyle Pearce: But then, also, just like the mindset piece, and when is math important, and why are we learning math, and how should we be thinking about math, as we’re growing up. And that’s so great, that you’ve filled this void, in this particular niche here. And obviously, we’ve got a ways to go, because hopefully, there’ll be more books to come from, whether it’s yourself, or other people. But I find that to be really interesting, at least, an epiphany that I’ve just had on the fly.
Kyle Pearce: So, for those who are listening and they’re saying, “Okay, so there’s this book she wrote, it’s about growth mindset,” can you give us a bit of a high level summary of the book, for those who are listening? So if they are eager to dive in, and maybe look this thing up online, and get it off of Amazon, we’ll be sure to include some show notes. Give them a bit of a summary. What’s the book about, and what messaging will there children, as well as, well, the adults get, by buying and reading this book?
Alice Aspinall: So the book is a children’s book. So it’s a picture book. Not a primary reader, but maybe a little more advanced level. It’s the story about a young girl named Amy, and Amy is struggling with a math assignment. So she has a problem that she’s working on.
Alice Aspinall: The problem is outlined in the book. And she’s really struggling to get this problem, and she’s getting up and getting angry, and her mother is trying to help her, though her mother admits that she also struggled with math, that she’s trying really to be positive for Amy, to help her work through this. So she gives up, thinks she’s not a math person, and then she goes on about her day, and starts to make some connections internally about other things in her life, that require hard work and practice, and that’s how we get better, and improve ourselves.
Alice Aspinall: So by the end, Amy realizes that she should apply that same ethic to learning math. She needs to practice more and have a better attitude about it. And of course, she gets some encouragement from her teacher, her friends, and by the end, she is able to work through the problem, using a different strategy than what she was trying at the beginning of the book.
Alice Aspinall: The message for children there is that perseverance, the connection of learning math, to learning other things like sports, and that we don’t just say, “I’m not a runner. I don’t, I’m not going to learn how to run.” Right? Running is something everybody can do, maybe not at an Olympic level, but we can all progress and get better at it, with dedicated practice and longer distances as we go. And so, that’s the same thing with learning math.
Alice Aspinall: Whereas, I think people are used to pushing math aside as something that you either know, or you don’t know, rather than working hard at it to get better, or to improve. And I think the message has been clear to parents, also, and it helps parents realize that negative math talk in the house is really detrimental to their childrens’ math ability, their future math ability, and contributes to the math anxiety that our young children have, right when they start school.
Kyle Pearce: Right.
Jon Orr: Such powerful motivators there, too, and I think your book is doing a great job of helping those parents understand that message. Definitely, I want to dive into that message a little bit later, too, but I know there’s a story behind how you chose an illustrator for the book, too. Do you mind sharing who the illustrator is, or how you chose that illustrator?
Alice Aspinall: So I wasn’t really sure how to go about finding an illustrator, because the book is self-published through a company. There are lots of different ways to publish book nowadays, thanks to the Internet, and so, it’s not a fully self-published. It was done through a company, so I could pay them to do illustrations, or I could find my own illustrator. And so, I preferred to find my own. I found it a little more personable.
Alice Aspinall: I had a former student from my high school do the illustrations, and I commissioned her to do the work. I told her how I envisioned each page, and she was able to articulate that in the way that I asked her to. She did a great job. She’s now studying art, at the art school in Nova Scotia. So it was a former student from my school. I had coached her basketball long ago, when she was in grade nine. That was many, many years ago now.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, it’s so great, when you can actually take students, and obviously, speaking about growth mindset, and really, all students have different skills that they’ve been honing in on. And it’s not because they were born with them, but because it’s something they enjoy, and they put that purposeful practice in, and what a great to sort of mesh those two things together.
Kyle Pearce: So, focusing on the growth mindset around math, but then, also going and grabbing a student, who, a former student, a former player from one of your teams, and being able to leverage their creativity, which I think is super exciting. Now, I’m wondering, I’ve just read the book, let’s say. I’m just putting it down. Do you have any recommendations on how teachers, if I’m a teacher who’s just grabbed this book for my own children, how might I take the messaging in this book, and extend the lessons from the story into their classrooms?
Kyle Pearce: Do you have any, maybe, starter tips or things? Let’s say I’m a teacher going, “Wow, I haven’t heard this idea. Or maybe I’ve heard of this idea of growth mindset, but I just don’t feel like I’m doing it right now.” Is there anything, like, might be a low hanging fruit to get them started?
Alice Aspinall: The first thing I recommend is starting with the language that the teacher uses, and the language students are using. So maybe students could find a sentence that they say to themselves all the time, like, “I’m really bad at multiplying.” And then, how can you take that sentence, and tweak the wording in it, because I’m a big believer in vocabulary, and the power of words, tweak that vocabulary into more of a growth mindset message?
Alice Aspinall: And so, the popular idea right now is to always use the word “yet,” but we don’t need to stop there. So the example I’ve set was, “I’m not good at multiplying,” or, “I’m bad at multiplying,” right? And you could say, “I’m not good at multiplying yet,” but that’s kind of basic, right? Can we change it, so that we’re… “I have not yet learned to multiply, but I’ve been practicing with erase.” So that would be a tweak, off the top of my head.
Alice Aspinall: So, if something like that, with the vocabulary used in the classroom, I think, is a great starter. I have heard of a lot of children and students using the book as a takeoff for activities. I had one class in Australia write letters about how the book changed their mindset. And so that was really powerful.
Alice Aspinall: Then I had another group, out of Math Camp, who decided they really wanted to write books about math. So they worked on stories that involved math problems. And I thought that was really fun, because that combines my two, love of books and math, together. And I thought, that was quite creative, and I enjoyed watching them build their stories, surrounded by manipulatives. They had flyers, and they had fake money, and counters, and stuff. And they were building their problems.
Kyle Pearce: I love your suggestion. You had mentioned the word “yet,” and that seems to be the popular idea around growth mindset, and something that’s really interesting, and I’ve read an article, see if I can link it up for the show notes. I can’t remember where it was from, but it was just talking about this idea of a false growth mindset, right? Like, if we just use the message, and that’s what I got from your statement there was, if we just add “yet” onto something, things probably aren’t going to change, because you haven’t really articulated, how are you going about it?
Kyle Pearce: So, for example, if I don’t feel like I’m very good at multiplying yet, but I’m actually not even considering what I need to do, in order to get better. I haven’t actually thought about whether I’m going to actually work on that skill, then it’s probably eventually going to turn into a, more of a fixed mindset thought, because that’s not going to change, right?
Kyle Pearce: For a growth mindset mentality or mindset to stick, you have to see some results over time, and if we leave it at changing our language, and we don’t actually think beyond that, I can see how some people might maybe fall off the, I hate to call it a bandwagon, but in that case, it would be. If you just change it to “yet,” and you haven’t actually done anything about it, then you’re not actually going to think that a growth mindset actually is helpful. So I really like how you’ve articulated that. I think that’s pretty key.
Alice Aspinall: It comes down to goal setting, right? When we set a goal, there are goals, and then there are smart goals. I’m sure everyone’s heard that term before, and you really need to set attainable realistic goals, with a plan in mind. And so the same thing goes. If you just say, “I can’t do this yet,” without some kind of foresight of how you’re going to get better at it, it’s not going to happen.
Jon Orr: I’m wondering, since you are a high school math teacher, like we are, and this book was primarily written for parents, and then, we’ve just mentioned, and I think a lot of schools are using your book, and they’re at classrooms, and elementary. As a high school teacher, how have you used your book, or the messaging in your book, to influence high schoolers? Or maybe there’s another book on the way, for high schoolers.
Alice Aspinall: I don’t know if there’s another book on the way. I am being asked that a lot, and I don’t know right now. High schoolers, I will say, very openly that I have not used the book in my classroom. And I probably will not, because I don’t want to involve any kind of conflict of interest there. But the idea is of the growth mindset in math I use daily. That’s what I breathe and preach on a daily basis in my classroom, and that’s why I wrote the book.
Alice Aspinall: Otherwise, if I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t have written it. So the ideas of the growth mindset are, I hope, very visible in my classroom in a daily basis, in terms of embracing when we’re struggling. I’m coming up with strategies, to get through that struggle. I demonstrate it by, when I make a mistake, I can fully admit it, and we work on how I can fix that. When we do assessments, I allow re-assessments afterwards. I’m really a believer in, if you’re going to preach the growth mindset, you have to do it fully, and you have to demonstrate it in all aspects.
Alice Aspinall: So I hope that’s visible in my classroom. I think that it is. I hope my students would say the same thing, but I do try to embrace that culture.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, for sure, and you know what? I can speak to this. I don’t always have the pleasure of speaking from personal experience when we invite people onto the show. But I have had the opportunity to go into your classroom, and at your school, your department, yourself and Chez, your fellow colleague and department head, are doing such great things.
Kyle Pearce: We had a discussion about this the last time we had done a walk through with our Math Task Force at Walkerville. And something that I brought up at the table was just this idea that you are really owning the belief area. And for those who have read, Principles to Actions, if they haven’t, definitely pick up that book from NCTM. It’s such a useful book on unpacking how to be an effective math teacher, and to provide an excellent learning experience for students.
Kyle Pearce: At the beginning of the book, they start with beliefs, and productive versus unproductive beliefs, and it is clear that you and your department are working so hard in this area. And when I walked through your class, I’ve had the opportunity to go into your class a couple of times. And when I go in there, you see students who are engaged fully in the mathematical process.
Kyle Pearce: There’s lots of math discourse. So I can definitely attest to the fact that I see it happening, and I’m sure your students see it and feel it as well. So we’re looking at the time here. We don’t want to keep you all day. This is your summer break, but with summer coming to an end for some of our US friends very soon, and for us, in Ontario, we’ll be starting up shortly as well. And actually, when this episode goes live, I think we will be back at school.
Kyle Pearce: I’m wondering, what does your first day of school look like? In order to really try to hone in on the belief message, and the growth mindset messaging, what does that look like or sound like? You can even expand out to the week, but just to get that culture going in your classroom, what are some of the things that are on your mind, when you come in to class?
Alice Aspinall: That’s a good question. The first day of class has changed for me, in the last couple of years, because we were told that we should be aligning the classroom expectation, the rules. We should be going over the course information sheet, and that sort of thing, and that’s what I used to do, but I don’t anymore.
Alice Aspinall: So now, I take the first day, it’s very important for me to set the culture in the classroom on that first day, and then all of the classroom management stuff can wait until later in the week. So on that first day, we set the group norms. So I’m doing an activity based on Jo Boaler’s youcubed Week of Inspirational Math. And I don’t remember which week it is, but you can look through, there are lots of different weeks.
Alice Aspinall: The first activity is, what good group work looks like, and what it does not look like. And we sort of developed these norms as a class together, of what we want to see in their groups, and what we don’t want to see. And we leave them up for awhile, so that they’re there, and then I can make reference to them, as we start working in groups.
Alice Aspinall: Then we go into the Week of Inspirational Math problems. And I think the first one I have done, more typically, is the Four Fours, because it’s open-ended, and has a very low entry point, so it’s not intimidating for students, but it’s still involving math. So, for a gray nine or a 10, most students can start doing something in that problem right away.
Alice Aspinall: We’re put into random groups, right from the start. We go up to the boards, the vertical number and services. I pose this problem to them, and then I start working on it. That will take most of my first period up by then.
Alice Aspinall: And so that, I tell them, “This is what our math class is going look like. We’re going to be working in groups. We’re going to change those groups up constantly, so that you don’t get used to working with the same people. We are going to work on the board, so that everybody can see your work, and I can see your work, and we can all talk about it, and ask questions about it, very easily, rather than when it’s in your notebook at your desk.” And that sets the stage, really.
Alice Aspinall: If you do that on the first day, and then, you do it again on the second day and the third day, you do it for that first week, those students are going to expect, that that’s what we do in this classroom. And that in itself is a type of normalcy and comfort for them, what they get used to, the look of the classroom, and that’s what it’s going to look like.
Jon Orr: Right, wonderful. And I think what it also does, is it also shows them what you’re valuing in class. Which is not always just about answer getting, and it’s not always just about… it’s about growth. And yeah, I think, when you have it up like that, you start on day one, and you keep going with that consistently, it tells the kids exactly what you expect, and that you’re valuing that growth, which is the big message there. So thank you for sharing that.
Kyle Pearce: Just before we wrap up here for this episode, we want to point our listeners to one more resource you have, which is your YouTube channel, Mrs. A Loves Math. We did a quick look at it before… I’ve used it in my class, too, as a high school teacher, and right now, Mrs. A Loves Math, this YouTube channel, is all about skills. And right now, I think you got 1.3,000 subscribers, and some of your videos have over 34,000 views. It’s something. There are a lot of people using that resource. How do you see people using that resource in their classrooms? And then we’ll wrap up.
Alice Aspinall: Thank you for visiting the YouTube channel. I think that’s, it’s flattering that you use it. It was never created with the intention to be used in the classroom, and I rarely, if ever, use it in my classroom. It was intended as an after hours go-to, when students need help, especially for my senior students, because I do teach the Grade 12 advanced functions a lot.
Alice Aspinall: And I find that they do have to do a little more practice at home, and the course is more intensive. And so, they find themselves at home, and when they’re stuck, they were going to things like Khan Academy, which is wonderful, but uses different vocabulary, and sometimes goes off on a tangent that is not really relevant to what they’re working on.
Alice Aspinall: And so, it started as just something for them to reference that use, the vocab that we use in the class, and the methods that we learned in class, the very simple basic algorithms to get through problems. And so, not very much how I run my classroom at all, but something that they can use, when they’re in need of help. And it’s sort of now, I guess, escalated into something quite large. It looks like it has a decent following, but the intention was not that people use it in the classroom.
Alice Aspinall: Because it’s a bit more of a, it’s direct instruction, which has a place. But I wouldn’t play them in class.
Kyle Pearce: I’m so happy that you’ve articulated that, because I think it’s really easy for us educators to not really, to see resources, and be like, “Wow, this is a good resource,” and then, maybe use it here or there, and maybe not in quite the best place. And I’m definitely a firm believer in that, as well. I’m not eagerly searching for videos to bring into my classroom.
Kyle Pearce: I mean, I use Three Act Math Task videos, I like Spark Engagement and those types of things, but for this, sort of, we’ll call it tutorial-type video, that’s more for when we’re at that purposeful practice phase, and a student gets stuck, or they just aren’t understanding how to go about solving a certain type of problem, and they want to check out some other methods, especially if I’m in a class where maybe the teacher isn’t really advocating for the use of multiple strategies, or like, concrete or visual strategies, that, you’re really helpful, as well, so-
Alice Aspinall: Yes, yeah.
Kyle Pearce: Thanks for articulating that.
Alice Aspinall: Because if a student is at home, and they’re stuck on something, and they’re not making any progress, that’s not useful to them. That’s not a productive use of their time. So it’s just, that’s just a means to get them on to the next step, so that they can move on, and make some progress. Because it’s not going to happen if they’re just not doing anything.
Kyle Pearce: Again, I think that’s great to clarify. Awesome. So we’ll definitely put that in the show notes. Before we wrap up here, where can math moment makers find out more from Alice Aspinall? And we will include them all in the show notes. Go ahead. Where can we find more?
Alice Aspinall: Well, you can follow me on Twitter, @aliceaspinall, and that account is used more for what I’m doing in my classroom for math learning. And then I also have Twitter for my book, which is, @EveryoneCanMath, and my book resources, which share a lot of ideas for talking about math with young children, and how to bring that math conversation in every day life things, so you can find those on Instagram, at Everyone Can Learn Math. And I have a Facebook group, also. Not a group, sorry, a page, at EveryoneCanLearnMath. And then, I do have some resources about some positive math vocabulary, on my website, everyonecanlearnmath.com.
Jon Orr: We will put all of those in the show notes for sure. And I’m sure people will be diving into those, and following those, and getting into that Facebook page. Great resources for us to keep this discussion going, and also to help our kids understand that everyone can learn math.
Jon Orr: Alice, we want to thank you for joining us here on the podcast, and we hope that you enjoy the rest of your summer. Of the time of this recording, it’s scary to say this, [inaudible 00:46:10], that it’s almost half done, and-
Alice Aspinall: Yeah!
Jon Orr: I know, I know! I was thinking about that today. Today is the start of the fourth week of our summer, so it’s scary. But hope you enjoy the rest of this summer. And we will be back to school before you know it, so thank you again, Alice, for joining us.
Alice Aspinall: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it. I appreciate you having me on. Thank you so much.
Kyle Pearce: We want to thank Alice again for spending some time with us to share her powerful messages about mathematics teaching, growth mindset, and math beliefs in the home.
Jon Orr: As always, how will you reflect on what you’ve heard from this episode? Have you written ideas down, drawn a sketch note, sent out a Tweet, called a colleague? Be sure to engage in some form of reflection, to ensure that the learning sticks.
Kyle Pearce: Also, the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast is excited to bring you another giveaway! This time, it’s with Whitebook, our source for Whitebook FlipCharts! That’s right, you can easily post whiteboards anywhere in your room, and you can easily bring them with you, wherever you go.
Kyle Pearce: Whitebook is offering you, the Math Moment Maker community, the chance to one of five FlipChart packs. Yes, I said it, one of five FlipChart packs, by visiting makemathmoments.com/giveaway.
Jon Orr: Not interested in the [inaudible 00:47:32]? You can also take advantage of a special 50% discount on FlipChart packs by simply entering the giveaway. Simply enter the giveaway by visiting makemathmoments.com/giveaway, and you’ll also see how you can take advantage of that discount.
Kyle Pearce: Don’t delay! The giveaway and 50% discount ends on Wednesday, August 28, 2019. Head over to makemathmoments.com/giveaway to get your name in the hat.
Jon Orr: Listening after Wednesday, August 28, 2019? No sweat! We’re always actively running giveaways. So check out makemathmoments.com/giveaway, to learn what draw we have running now. Remember, you got to play to win. Dive in at makemathmoments.com/giveaway.
Kyle Pearce: That’s makemathmoments.com/giveaway! In order to ensure you don’t miss out on any episodes as they come out each week, be sure to subscribe on iTunes, or on your favorite podcast platform. Also, if you’re liking what you’re hearing, please share the podcast with a colleague, and help us reach a wider audience, by leaving us a review on iTunes, and Tweet us your biggest takeaway, by taking @MakeMathMoments on Twitter.
Jon Orr: Show notes and links for this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode39. Again, that’s makemathmoments.com/episode39.
Kyle Pearce: Well, until next time, I’m Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us!
Jon Orr: And high fives for you!
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