Math Teacher Mindset Shifts Before Instructional Shifts?

Math Coordinators, coaches, district leaders:

Do we have to focus on switching teacher mindsets BEFORE helping them with pedagogical moves?

As coaches, consultants, or coordinators, our ultimate aim is to foster an environment where students actively engage with the math practice standards while developing a positive disposition towards mathematics. A critical aspect of this process involves altering teachers’ mindsets and teaching practices.


The Dilemma: Mindset vs. Pedagogy

One of the common dilemmas we face is deciding whether to focus initially on changing teachers’ mindsets or to start with enhancing their mathematical proficiency and pedagogical strategies. This question often arises during the planning of professional development sessions, and it’s a valid concern. Do we start with the mindset and hope it translates into effective practice, or do we begin with the practice and hope it alters the mindset?


The Elephant and the Rider: A Metaphor for Change

In contemplating this challenge, I’m reminded of the metaphor from the book “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath, which explores how to facilitate difficult changes. Picture an elephant and its rider traveling down a path. The rider represents our logical side, while the elephant symbolizes our emotional side. For successful change, both the rider’s direction and the elephant’s willingness to follow are essential.


Addressing All Three Aspects

To truly impact teaching practice, we must address three key elements: clearing the path (making the change easy), appealing to the teacher’s logic (why the change makes sense), and, most importantly, persuading their emotional side (why they should want to change).


The Power of Mathematics Epiphanies

In our experience, starting with creating ‘mathematics epiphanies’ can be incredibly effective. These are moments when the beauty, clarity, and simplicity of mathematics become apparent, significantly impacting teachers’ beliefs and practices. They are moments when a teacher’s fundamental understanding of a math concept is challenged. For instance, when a teacher suddenly grasps how to represent two-step equations on a number line or comprehends the area model for multiplying two-digit numbers, it’s transformative.


Putting It Into Practice

Our discussions with district partners often lead to the conclusion that facilitating these epiphanies should be a primary focus of professional development. Encouraging teachers to experience math in new, profound ways can powerfully shift their perspectives and, in turn, their teaching practices.


The Path to Classroom Transformation

Once these epiphanies occur, teachers naturally start asking how they can implement such revelations in their classrooms. This is where logical reasoning and clearing the path come into play. It becomes easier to guide teachers through pedagogical changes when they’ve experienced these profound moments of understanding.


Focusing on mathematics epiphanies provides a solid foundation for both mindset and pedagogical shifts. It’s a strategy that aligns with our goal of making mathematics a subject of discovery and joy for both teachers and students. As we continue to support our educators, let’s create opportunities for these transformative experiences and watch the positive ripple effects in our classrooms.


Focus Your Math Professional Development On What Matters


Free Training + Planning Workbook


Each lesson consists of:

Each Make Math Moments Problem Based Lesson consists of a Teacher Guide to lead you step-by-step through the planning process to ensure your lesson runs without a hitch!

Each Teacher Guide consists of:

  • Intentionality of the lesson;
  • A step-by-step walk through of each phase of the lesson;
  • Visuals, animations, and videos unpacking big ideas, strategies, and models we intend to emerge during the lesson;
  • Sample student approaches to assist in anticipating what your students might do;
  • Resources and downloads including Keynote, Powerpoint, Media Files, and Teacher Guide printable PDF; and,
  • Much more!

Each Make Math Moments Problem Based Lesson begins with a story, visual, video, or other method to Spark Curiosity through context.

Students will often Notice and Wonder before making an estimate to draw them in and invest in the problem.

After student voice has been heard and acknowledged, we will set students off on a Productive Struggle via a prompt related to the Spark context.

These prompts are given each lesson with the following conditions:

  • No calculators are to be used; and,
  • Students are to focus on how they can convince their math community that their solution is valid.

Students are left to engage in a productive struggle as the facilitator circulates to observe and engage in conversation as a means of assessing formatively.

The facilitator is instructed through the Teacher Guide on what specific strategies and models could be used to make connections and consolidate the learning from the lesson.

Often times, animations and walk through videos are provided in the Teacher Guide to assist with planning and delivering the consolidation.

A review image, video, or animation is provided as a conclusion to the task from the lesson.

While this might feel like a natural ending to the context students have been exploring, it is just the beginning as we look to leverage this context via extensions and additional lessons to dig deeper.

At the end of each lesson, consolidation prompts and/or extensions are crafted for students to purposefully practice and demonstrate their current understanding. 

Facilitators are encouraged to collect these consolidation prompts as a means to engage in the assessment process and inform next moves for instruction.

In multi-day units of study, Math Talks are crafted to help build on the thinking from the previous day and build towards the next step in the developmental progression of the concept(s) we are exploring.

Each Math Talk is constructed as a string of related problems that build with intentionality to emerge specific big ideas, strategies, and mathematical models. 

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

Use our OPEN ACCESS multi-day problem based units!

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

MMM Unit - Snack Time Fractions Unit


Partitive Division Resulting in a Fraction

Shot Put Multi Day Problem Based Unit - Algebraic Substitution


Equivalence and Algebraic Substitution

Wooly Worm Race - Representing and Adding Fractions


Fractions and Metric Units


Scavenger Hunt - Data Management and Finding The Mean


Represent Categorical Data & Explore Mean

Downloadable resources including blackline mastershandouts, printable Tips Sheetsslide shows, and media files do require a Make Math Moments Academy Membership.

Use our OPEN ACCESS multi-day problem based units!