teaching growth mindset to elementary math students

Reset Math Mindsets

Today I want to talk about giving kids a clean start in math. We can do it with fun, hands-on activities.


STEAM Math Art Tile Design Activity for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders

When kids get to have an experience like this tile design activity, sometimes they forget they’re doing math.  The math is so in context, so authentic, that it just feels like a seemless part of the design process.


They’re moving, talking, and having fun. And at the end, it’s the teachers job to host a reflective discussion that helps students realize that they just tackled a complex math challenge. That last reflection component is the key to resetting kids’ math mindset.


To give students a fresh start, provide activities that have these 3 components.

1. Get Them Up And Moving!

Hands-on learning helps students make their own sense of math. Activities with blocks or fraction tiles boost proportional reasoning. Activities with counters can support number sense and organization. Dice activities foster subitizing, and games motivate efficiency and fluency.


STEAM math art elementary project
With this STEAM activity, students are given a checklist and pattern blocks. The kids work in partners to create a tile design within budget for their client, Mr. Buzz. A checklist provides students with a feeling of independence and frees up the teacher to move around the room, asking questions and observing problem solving. (Click image to learn more about this tile design activity.)


Set up math stations so even when students are sitting and working, they’re not at their usual work space. Even that small novelty changes the dynamic of the classroom.


Beginning class in a circle on the floor to introduce activities and ending class with a reflection circle of questions and shares means students are moving to at least 3 spots during their math period.




2. Get Them Talking!

Help students make strong math connections through talk. As they work, ask questions that connect physical reality to abstract math. Explaining concepts helps us process information at a deeper level – so take a break from teaching and leave the explaining to the kids!


STEAM math art tile design elementary turn and talk
In this tile design activity, kids need to communicate with their partner to choose tiles (pattern blocks) within a given budget, agree on a design, figure out each shape’s fraction of the whole, and measure the area of their creation. Talking about each step helps them process the math, and recording their work in a data table helps them see patterns and connect concrete concepts to abstract symbols. (Click image for details about this tile design activity.)


Here are some questions that get kids talking:

What symbol can I use to represent pushing two sets of blocks together? (addition +)
What are my choices if the two sets have the same number of blocks? (x or +)
What if I break a set of blocks into equal groups? (division ÷)
How would this be different if you had 10 more counters?
How many more counters would you need to get to the next 100?
How is your strategy different from your partners?
How is multiplying with 2 digit numbers different from 1 digit numbers?


3. Reflect On Fun!

Take advantage of the fun of hands-on activities and games to steer students towards a growth mindset. When kids are having fun, they don’t always realize the perseverance and problem solving skills they’ve used. Highlight those skills, and help students see that they have what it takes to work through challenging problems, whether they’re part of a game or an assessment.


At the end of class, ask direct questions about perseverance and problem solving:
Who got stuck and had to change gears at some point?
Who figured out strategies during the game that helped them do better and better?
How did you use math you already knew to solve this more complex problem?
What did it feel like to get stuck, and what did you do?
How can you use the perseverance strategies from this game to help you do math in the future?

Let’s finish the school year strong, with high-quality activities that promote positive attitudes and deep mathematical understanding!



Click here to check out one such activity:


STEAM Math Art Tile Design Activity for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders


Take care everyone! Happy New Year!

Jeannie Curtis

 teaching growth mindset to elementary math students

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