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Learning to Ask WHY in Math

Deep Understanding

At Anastasis, we strive for more than simple surface level comprehension. In Math at Anastasis, this is an essential piece of learning that pushes back against traditional math instruction.

Students using number blocks to demonstrate number family concepts
Thinking about number families

Traditionally, math curriculum has focused on the what and the how, and only briefly, the why. For example, many people might remember the algorithm for dividing fractions: flip (“invert”)  the second fraction’s numerator and denominator, and then multiply. But when pressed to explain the purpose for this algorithm… the why… most people cannot explain. They just know that this is how to do it.

Understanding why we use specific algorithms is key to understanding mathematical concepts. It might seem more prudent to memorize operation facts to achieve fluency as the most important factor in early math education, and then save the more advanced conceptual lessons for when students are older. However, what we know is that most kids perform fairly well in math education throughout primary grades. Where they begin to struggle is somewhere during the time that algebra is introduced - usually during middle school or early high school, and that memorization of facts and algorithms alone has resulted in a focus on the how without the why.

Could it be simply a case of some kids are “math people,” and some are not? NO. What research is showing is a failure to understand mathematical concepts at a deeper level for many students who previously connected math only to computation and memorization of math facts.

Mathematics is SO much more than this!

Boosting Math

The video linked below is from Dr. Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford Graduate School. Dr. Boaler and some of her students share some really important ideas around mathematics education. Please take a few minutes to watch and reflect.

At Anastasis, we have been working with teachers and students to help them think through how we can teach and learn math differently. I’ve also been working directly with students in each class to think about what math is, and we’ve emphasized the points from this video:

1) Everyone can learn math to high levels.

2) Believe in yourself.

3) Struggle and mistakes are important.

4) Speed is not important.

In the past few weeks, I’ve asked each class to watch the video and then reflect on the messages they received from Dr. Boaler and her students. After viewing, several classes spent 5-7 minutes to think, reflect, and then share their thoughts quickly in written form. Some of those reflections from Team Fink are shared below. Note: We did not take the time to edit their writing in that moment.

Student Reflections


The Boosting Math video taught me about how mindset effects your efficiently in math. I know in my life I have had fixed mindsets before, and I can see now how much that effected my year in math. Attitude can make or break homework, quizzes, and even tests. The better attitude you have going into something, the better outcome. As Dr. Jo Boaler stated in the video, there is no such thing as a math person or a non math person, just a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset.


The key is to understand. I often focus on how many pages in my math book

I get done a night, but when I get to the test I have no clue what I was doing. I had no clue because I didn’t take the time to understand what I was doing. From the video I learned that it is important to take the time to understand what is was doing, and if I fail learn from it instead of giving up and saying I can’t do it.


I can’t. Two simple words can mean all the difference. You see the person sitting next to you rushing through there math test and think to your self “I can’t”. You see the drawing on the board in art and you think “I can’t. The world is full of lies but this is one of the greatest. The only wall in your life is the one that you put up. The one that you put up with the mortar of comparison and the brick of doubt. You don’t need to build walls though. Walls are only isolation from possibility. So I urge you to take the "t" out of can’t. This one simple correction will change your intire  life.


I have experienced a normal school education and I know that for some reason they are always wanting you to be fast with reading or math facts. I am not good with this, I have to think about math facts before I can get a answer. I have definitely seen where kids want to be fastest at this but really it is not doing anything for them. I have heard adults or my brothers say that they are terrible at math, but this video says that anyone can be good at math. I have always done really well with word problems but I definitely have some things that I need to work on.


Your only obstacle in life is yourself, you can do anything as long as you believe you can. I've always heard people around me say they are bad at math, but those people can easily become great at math if they take the time, and work hard. I've never thought that I was great at doing math, but I know that I can be great if I work hard. It amazes me that your brain is always growing and that it will always help you get better at what you are trying to achieve.


What stuck out to me was that anyone can learn the same kind of math. This kind of confused me. what if you have two of the exact same learners but one in in a eighth grade book and one is in algebra? in that moment they both can’t learn algebra, maybe with some time but not in that moment, like right now i couldn’t do algebra but if you give a book and some practice i will be able to.


The video we watched talked about math and how it is deeper than memorizing and fast facts although that is a good start. It also explained how there's lessons in your failures that you can learn from. The video wants you to know that math is deeper than putting numbers in a calculator and you will be a math person when you push yourself to get better. A lot of us want to be done with math as soon as it gets tough but you can't stop there. Partly because eventually you'll have to get grades but also because math doesn't stop being being important when you give up. My biggest takeaway is to keep trying. A lot of the time I want to give up but if I put myself in the right mindset math won't be something I hate doing.

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