You are NOT Bad at Math

Did you know that there is not a “math gene” that makes us good at math? If you haven’t read this yet: Why Do Americans Stink at Math? I would highly suggest taking the time to read.  The long and short of it, is that during the industrial revolution, we took the fast track and tried to teach math the fastest way possible.  We taught shortcuts instead of conceptual understanding.  This method of teaching allowed our students to go directly from their education into a factory job, but it did a great disservice to a generation.  This is why people believe that they are “bad at math”.

The world has changed and we can no longer do this to our students, but according to the article above we still are.  Despite many attempts at changing our math practices, we still find the majority of U.S. teachers using traditional methods. Of students attending 2 year colleges, 60% of them are placed in remedial math classes, and only 25% of those students pass those classes! (Silva & White, 2013)

I would strongly recommend that you watch this video by Jo Boaler, of Stanford University. It is 20 minutes long, so if you can’t watch it all, try the first 8 minutes.  In it she talks about how we need to make math a learning subject (exploratory, messy, open ended and challenging), not a performance based subject (math is only about answering questions correctly).

To return math to being a learning subject, we can use rich open ended tasks, inquiry activities, real world projects and problems that encourage math talk and discourse!  Please check out my free Reasoning Puzzle Set to try out an activity that will really get your students thinking and talking and most importantly, learning at high levels.

Reasoning Puzzles to promote student to student math talk.

Reasoning Puzzles to promote student to student math talk.

These are most appropriate for 3 and 4th graders, but even could be beneficial for fifth graders that are not used to thinking this way!  If you end up using them, I’d love to hear how it goes.



  1. Thank you for sharing this excellent video. She does an outstanding job of explaining what the changes are and why they are necessary. This is an excellent resource I will use as I talk with parents and teachers!



  2. Great video and a great post. I actually have an intervention group for next year that all think they’re “bad at math” for the most part they all have great number sense, they just can’t remember algorithms and the way math is being taught to them (performance-based) isn’t helping them grasp new concepts. When given a problem to solve and context for the math they’re doing, however, they all do quite well.



  3. I really enjoyed reading this post! I am an aspiring educator who came into college as one of those people who did not have the “math gene”. It was not until this semester that I realized I CAN do math. I was taught the standard algorithm for all operations and that was it. I was never told to use different strategies. Knowing there are so many other ways to solve problems was eye-opening! I had no idea our reasoning for why we are bad at math went all the way back to the Industrial Revolution! The Jo Boaler video you included is a great resource and we were actually shown that video in my math class! I think it is an important video for all educators and parents to see! Overall, great post that was very helpful! 🙂



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