Professor Jo Boaler may have moved halfway across the globe five years ago to become Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University in California, but she continues to take a keen interest in how numeracy is taught back home.
Last week, her call for Britain to stop testing young children on their ability to recite times tables – because it causes “crippling fear” and “puts them off maths” – prompted a backlash from fellow academics who believe the opposite.
“Research has pinpointed the onset of 'maths anxiety’ around the age of eight,” she explains, “when they start doing times tables tests. They are all about speed and memory. If someone isn’t fast at doing them, they get the idea they aren’t good at maths and they lose confidence.”
That in its turn sends them on to secondary school with a view that “maths isn’t for them”.
Prof Boaler, whose book The Elephant in the Classroom remains a bible for many maths’ teachers, is clear that being “good” at times tables should never be equated with being “good at maths”.
“We know that speed and the ability to memorise is not a good indicator of maths potential. So to see this policy being pushed in Britain now is simply heartbreaking.”
Earlier this autumn, she returned to the UK to support an initiative in 300 schools nationwide. The “Week of Inspirational Maths” followed a five-stage programme, complete with lesson plans designed with the campaigning group National Numeracy, which exemplified how she believes maths should be taught.
“Every day started with a video that aims to get across our key mindset messages,” explains this Birmingham-born former classroom teacher, whose first post in the mid-Eighties was at Ed Miliband’s alma mater, Haverstock comprehensive school in north London. Changing mindsets is at the very heart of Prof Boaler’s campaign to overhaul traditional maths teaching.
Read the entire story on The Telegraph website. For a more in-depth explanation of her approach, see this story about her new book Mathematical Mindsets, learn about the materials offered through her program YouCubed at Stanford and listen to an interview with Jo Boaler on the BBC. You can also read a commentary by her on The Atlantic website and her op-ed in the Hechinger Report.