Author: Brent Hughes from Matific
In the world of Primary Mathematics it is quite rare for people to show pride in their mistakes. American Philosopher Homer J. Simpson says “Trying is the first step towards failure.” Whilst Homer is 100% correct I would argue that failure is the first step towards insurmountable success. The moment that maths became a subject where you are either right or wrong can be pinpointed to the exact moment when erasers were manufactured onto pencils. How can we expect children to take risks in their learning if we encourage them to hide any evidence that they failed?
Children are born with a growth mindset. No child in the history of the world has gingerly stood up and then proceeded to strut confidently across the room on their first attempt. Successful walking is the end result of a series of failed attempts. The “I give up” mantra is something that is unfortunately learned somewhere in primary school.
Children believe they are better off giving up if something is challenging or even worse that they should hide their failures from the world. No infant ever falls and thinks “this walking business just isn’t for me”. Matific is working hard on bringing the resilience children are born with back to the classroom by tapping into the world of video games.
How many children make mistakes playing video games and then turn it off deciding they will never play it again? The global gaming industry is reporting $99.6 billion in revenue for 2016 on the back of this I am going to suggest the number is close to zero.
Video games have an incredible ability to increase determination in children despite some elements being purposefully challenging. Children studying maths in the HSC has been declining for almost 20 years and the gaming world is booming. Maths education might want to look closely at gaming for inspiration on real engagement.
Matific takes the best elements of both worlds and combines them. Children enjoy the challenge of video games but not the challenge of difficult content in Maths . Carol Dweck refers to this as having a fixed mindset. Children with a fixed mindset often “see mistakes as failure and as signs that they aren’t talented enough for the task. More concerning, they seek experiences that reinforce their ability and prove their intelligence, leading them to avoid challenging tasks”. When children make mistakes in the games on Matific they are prompted to attempt the problem again and because they’re enjoying the process they do.
When a child makes a mistake in a maths test, they don’t know they are wrong until a teacher gives them their feedback at which point it is too late to change anything anyway. Worse than this is when children make mistakes when they are called upon to answer something in class. In this situation a mistake is coupled with the social anxiety of everyone in the class laughing at you. Matific gives students feedback instantly and the mindset of the children is “what do I try next”. Classes all over the world are beginning to implement “growth mindset” training with their students. Teachers are encouraging them to take risks with their learning, make mistakes and see these mistakes as steps towards success. Professor Carol Dweck speaks about the power of the word “yet”. When a child is unable to do something they need to be reminded that they are unable to do it “yet”.
Matific has been doing the exact same with those schools that are using the resource as part of their approach to holistic maths understanding. For many, mathematics isn’t going to be mastered without some hard work and perseverance. Children using Matific are able to tap into the growth mindset that they enjoyed as they learned to walk and talk but this time they are applying it to mastering symmetry, coordinate geometry or counting.