11 June, 2024 Academic

The Power of Productive Struggle in Mathematics

Mathematics education is more than just solving equations or memorising Pythagoras’ theorem. It’s about fostering resilient problem-solvers who can thrive in an ever-evolving world. At St Michael’s, we’re reimagining our approach to Mathematics. We’re moving away from the binary perspective of students being either good or bad at Maths and instead, embracing the concept of ‘productive struggle’.

Productive struggle is a mindset that encourages our students to grapple with complex problems, endure setbacks, and persist through difficulties. It’s not about immediate answers but about viewing challenges as opportunities for growth. This shift in perspective transforms obstacles into stepping stones, empowering students to persevere, explore alternative approaches, and gain deeper insights.

In our classrooms, we champion productive struggle. We encourage students to tackle challenges with curiosity and tenacity. We celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities, instilling the belief that resilience and effort are the true keys to success. This approach helps our students to move away from a fixation on perfect grades and understand that in Mathematics, a C grade signifies proficiency, while an A grade reflects mastery. This understanding allows students to strive for comprehension and foster a love of learning, without the undue pressure of grade anxiety.

We recognise the prevalence of maths anxiety and provide empathetic support and practical strategies to help students manage their concerns. We also acknowledge the crucial role parents play in fostering a growth mindset at home, reinforcing the message that effort and perseverance outweigh achievement alone.

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  • the-power-of-productive-struggle-in-mathematics

Personal recent professional learning experiences with the Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership have been instrumental in shaping my understanding of supporting students with maths anxiety. The academy, together with the Australian Council for Educational Research, co-designed a series of printable and audio resources aimed at fostering an inclusive and positive Mathematics environment. These invaluable tools can be accessed by teachers and parents, providing crucial support for students who may feel overwhelmed. To access these resources and podcasts, visit the academy’s website and navigate to the resources section. Search for ‘maths anxiety’ and be sure to also explore the parent handout Why Maths? and the podcast Partnering with parents: how to talk about Mathematics with Dr Sarah Buckley.

At St Michael’s, we’re committed to nurturing confident and resilient mathematicians equipped to navigate the challenges of the 21st century. We’re encouraging our students to strive for their best, enjoy the process of learning, and not obsess over the outcome. Through our focus on productive struggle and our dedication to supporting students with maths anxiety, we’re creating an environment where every student can thrive in Mathematics and beyond.

Mr Tommy Allott
Head of Mathematics