Deborah Howard: math, the struggle is real–and good!

D HowardDeborah Howard, math professor at the east campus, is using the Lockheed Martin chair in Mathematics this year in several ways, including bringing in Jeff Kosovich and allowing Professor Howard to attend the “Learning and the Brain” conference last winter.

Jeff Kosovich is a psychological researcher from the University of Virginia. He came to Valencia to conduct several cognitive interviews with Valencia students and front door math instructors on experimental design, growth mindset and motivation theory.

“We learned several useful procedural strategies that will assist us in collecting meaningful data,” says Howard. For example, their first attempt in recruiting students to participate in a focus group consisted of them contacting random Valencia math students. Only a few students attended even after they were called and reminded. “Jeff suggested we have the student’s math instructor make the contact with the student, since they already had a relationship with the student, and we were able to recruit a much larger sample of students.”  A protocol was created to ensure that each student’s experience in the focus group was as similar as it could be compared with other focus groups and that the interviewers did not influence the group’s responses.

The “Learning and the Brain” conferences Howard attended were “Shaping Student Mindsets” and “The Science of Imagination.”

“I learned that mastery-based goal orientation promotes a growth mindset, whereas performance-based goal orientation fosters a fixed mindset. Some effective strategies are to make the learning criteria known to students, emphasize productive struggle, and encourage students helping others which creates autonomy and resilience. In addition, passion for learning is sparked when students’ curiosity is engaged. I aspire to challenge my students to “Wonder Boldly”!”

Additionally, they were able to fund materials—including 40 jump drives for the secure data transfer of confidential and student-sensitive data, and two literature books, The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model for 21st-Century Schools” by Mariale Hardiman and “Mathematical Mindsets” by Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck.

Howard said, “Valencia wins! The teaching pedagogy of twenty-three East Campus front door mathematics faculty who participated in the growth mindset and motivation theory training were enriched. In turn, the students for these instructors for this year and future years will benefit with potential decrease in course drop-out rates, increase in math interest, and increase in overall course success rates. I have been approached by some of my own students who are so thankful that they now have the ability to believe in their own success in math. They are no longer afraid or believe that they can’t do math!”

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