Math at Westside

Students writing in a notebook.

At Westside, we love how engaged our parents and guardians are with their children's learning. Some of the more common questions we receive are about how and why we teach math the way we do. Math education looks different today than it did when many of us were in school. In recent decades, there has been significant research into how our brains are wired for learning, as well as the impact of mindset on learning. Our approach to teaching math at Westside is rooted in this research, as well as state and national guidelines for best practices in math education.

Research on Math Instruction

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel's most recent comprehensive study of math research and education indicates that a teacher-directed, stand-and-deliver, algorithm-based approach, which many view as "traditional" math instruction, is not the most effective. Rather, high-quality math instruction requires a combination of student-centered and teacher-directed approaches. Washington State's Mathematics Content Philosophy echoes and furthers this thought and states clearly that best instructional practices in math should focus on reasoning rather than computation and memorization. It states, "...this vision of mathematics education requires students to reason and model with mathematics, be problem solvers, and interpret data. Mathematics programs that emphasize only computation and memorization should be updated or replaced with curricula designed to develop these areas of mathematical thinking." In addition, both recommend a focus on the depth of math learning rather than speed.

Research also tells us that the most robust learning occurs when we use different pathways within the brain. The left side of our brains handles factual and technical information and is called upon with math work that focuses on procedures and calculation. The right side of our brain handles visual and spatial information and is often more involved in conceptual understanding and problem-solving. An equal focus on both components of math education - concepts and calculation - requires greater communication between brain areas, which enhances learning.


Research on Mindset in Math Education

Jo Boaler, a mathematics professor at Stanford University, has done a great deal of research into the impact of mindset in math education. She believes that all students can be mathematical thinkers and that math education that encourages a growth mindset rather than a fixed one is essential. She states that "In the early years of school, we develop a system whereby students are required, from an early age, to learn many formal mathematical methods, such as those used to add, subtract, divide, and multiply numbers. This is the time when students stray from mathematical mindsets and develop fixed, procedural mindsets. This is the time when it is most critical that teachers and parents introduce mathematics as a flexible conceptual subject that is all about thinking and sense-making."


From Research to Practice

So, what does this research look like in practice? At Westside, our math program aims to develop students as mathematical thinkers and reasoners. While students learn formal mathematical methods, which we often refer to as the standard algorithm, they are also challenged to manipulate and reason with numbers in ways that go far beyond these formal methods. We do not focus on skill-and-drill instruction - a practice that most schools are moving away from. Rather, we work to balance the conceptual and computational skills that students need in order to be successful mathematicians, all while supporting the development and maintenance of a growth mindset.


Commonly Asked Questions