Creating Resilience in Students of Mathematics

The Age had an interesting article on January 1 2007 (see below) about how students will build up better resilience, not only as learners but as people, if they are allowed time and ‘head space’ to think through difficult problems on their own.

Look on the bright side and it will all add up

Chee Chee Leung
January 1, 2007

HAVING a sunny disposition may not only be good for the soul, it may also help in the classroom.

A Melbourne researcher has found that optimism is a key ingredient for success in school mathematics.

Students who perform well with unfamiliar maths problems have the drive to persist with difficult tasks, even when previous attempts had failed.

“These students saw the setbacks as temporary and specific,” said Gaye Williams, a maths education lecturer at Deakin University. “When they couldn’t solve a problem they didn’t just stop and say, ‘I’m stupid’. They persisted.”

Dr Williams’ findings are based on the study of 86 year 8 students in maths classrooms in Australia and the United States in 2000 and 2001.

Her research, completed through the University of Melbourne, was named the best educational PhD for 2006 by the Australian Association for Research in Education.

The study also found that students who solved difficult problems on their own — without the help of other students or teachers — often gained a better understanding of the maths concepts than their classmates.

“It gives them pleasure in their work with maths, and a far greater understanding of what the maths is they are working with, and therefore will enable them to use it in their everyday lives,” Dr Williams said.

She said this suggested that in some cases, teachers should give students time to struggle through a problem, and refrain from telling them how to solve it.

“You’ve got to build resilient children,” she said. “By doing this, teachers not only increase student ability to solve unfamiliar problems, they also build adolescent wellbeing, which can help reduce the risk of depression.”


About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
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3 Responses to Creating Resilience in Students of Mathematics

  1. Ian Ross says:

    Linda, Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. It has reminded me that students need to be given time to struggle with the problem. During my Dip Ed year (only a few years ago) my lecturer explained that more teachers need to “stand back and let the students learn”. This is more confirmation of this philosphy.

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