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Episode 21: Mathematizing Mindsets - An Interview with Janet, Mariana, and Kirsta

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

Desiree Harrison 0:00

Know of a teacher, teacher educator, or parent that is keeping the conversation about math active and positive? Then nominate them for the KMT Spotlight where we highlight additional voices in the math community and celebrate all of the amazing things happening. Email me at or connect with me on Twitter to nominate someone, or yourself, today.

There’s been amazing feedback from the past few episodes, especially episode 20 talking about Everything You Never Learned about Fractions Part 1. Thank you to all of the Kids Math Talk listeners. I appreciate your support of the show so much and thank you for your donations that help to keep the show running - thank you also for sharing the episodes so that more people can learn along with us and for keeping the conversation going through Twitter and email.

And Yes! I am planning future episodes to continue to explore fractions understanding. Today though we’re talking about Mathematizing Your School where we will learn what that term mathematize means, and about actionable items that can promote excitement, and a positive mindset towards math in the classroom, school, and district, no matter what math concept is being emphasized at the moment.

Desiree Harrison 2:02

Today, we have a trio of math enthusiasts from the Pasadena Independent School District in Pasadena, Texas here to help us learn how to mathematize our learning spaces. Please welcome, instructional specialists Janet Nuzzie, and math coaches Mariana Breaux, and Kirsta Jenne.

I hear about this word mathematize a lot, and when I think about the amount of ELA resources, meaning reading and writing, the amount of attention that those subject areas get in comparison to math in terms of the classroom in just wall space for anchor charts, or various resources, and it's not even at all. The attention is definitely skewed toward that reading and writing, unless the teacher is truly passionate about mathematics. And if we extend that definition of learning space into- to include that of the entire school or the entire district, reading and writing oftentimes still wins out - they receive more attention and more funding for initiatives like month long events for reading and special events for families, and even with people acknowledging how crucial it is to have math for a child's full development, many school and district cultures still have this unspoken norm that it's okay for math to be de-emphasized.

And from what I gather, that's no longer the case in your school district.

And in order to change the culture, you have to change the conversation, and this mathematize seems to be that way. So, tell us what does it really mean to mathematize a school, and how did you all go about this in setting up the structures and the system.

Janet Nuzzie

Janet Nuzzie 4:02

Alright. So I will speak to that from the district level. And in thinking about that conversation, a very important piece of that conversation to know is that one, it's been a journey and it's been a process. But the journey and the process began with developing a common language about what it means to know mathematics, do mathematics. What does it for students to be mathematicians, and it also it about developing a shared knowledge of how do we facilitate instruction where mathematics looks like and sounds like this, or our students see themselves as doers of mathematics. And so, what that meant was, we had to go in, and really think about one, in terms of what it is that we're teaching in terms of our standards; what are the tools we put in place to effectively communicate what those standards look like to align with mathematics; and also the how, which is developing a model for implementation.

And so, two things with that is, one, we stated conversations about a mathematics workshop model that engages students in the mathematics and that started to then- through the mathematics workshop model, it introduced language into the conversation about mathematics routines, about whole group instruction, about small group instruction, about workstations, about discourse, about academic language, about student engagement, and so that started conversations about what it means from the district level for students- for a district to be mathematized, but for students to have experiences as mathematicians.

And, the other pieces that I'll throw in there and then pause is that another big piece of that conversation was talking about mindsets. About what does it mean to have a mathematical mindset for our students, yes, but first and foremost, we also had to address the mathematical mindsets of our teachers, coaches, administrators, at the campus level and district level. Are we all in agreement about what it means to have the mathematical mindset and a mindset about mathematics.

Desiree Harrison 6:01

Thank you Janet. There's so many different paths that you all had to go through, sounds like simultaneously. And I know on Twitter I see the posts for #PISDMathChat a lot and the associated Twitter account and I - you all post lots of pictures of this mathematizing happening and one of the many avenues that I heard you just talk about is students seeing themselves as mathematicians. And a more recent post was the idea about the Mathematician Street and having- celebrating - mathematicians in the schools and also in the larger world. So, tell us more about how that came about and how that's impacting students.

Janet Nuzzie 6:51

In terms of the Mathematician Street and Mathematician of the month and those things that we see that are absolutely incredible- those really began with Mariana Breaux, and so, with her efforts at her campus, so I think Mariana would definitely be our person to lead us down that pathway.

Mariana Breaux

Mariana Breaux 7:05

So, yeah, I think for me, you know, looking at things through the mathematics coach role, for me mathematizing at the beginning really meant, putting mathematics at the forefront. Kind of like what you said Desiree, literacy is exalted almost, right, literacy is- a kid must be able to read before they can do math is almost the message that we get, or we have received at times.

And when I began my journey as a math coach, I went into a new campus. And I walked in and I just noticed, "Wow! Like literacy is everywhere." And before that, I saw, I was a part of a book study, a district book study as a teacher before I became a coach, and we dove into Dr. Nikki Newton's book, Guided Math In Action. And I think in Guided Math In Action, one of the quotes that she shared was, "a glance around the room tells you how important math is." And another quote was, "what do your walls say about the importance of math in your class?"

And now as a campus coach, I ask myself those questions, but now at the campus level, right. What do the walls say about the importance of math in my school? A glance around the room, what do we see and the truth is we saw AR points being displayed, AR certificates everywhere, but there was really not that same excitement with math. So for me to mathematize my campus, to bring some excitement to math. To put it, not to say it's more important than reading, or better than reading, but it's just as important. They're equal, right. And, so that started with first, let's just put math on the walls. And let's just have fun with math. Let's look for patterns with numbers and that's where Mathematician Street was born. Simultaneously was, let's celebrate our mathematicians just like we celebrate our readers for moving levels or completing AR quizzes and getting points. Let's celebrate our mathematicians. But the goal really, with the different learning from Jo Boaler, and Nikki Newton- all these people that we've been learning from, it was more about, kind of like what Janet said - this common language of, "What is a mathematician?", right, What are we celebrating? Are we celebrating - are students being fast? And being perfect at math? Or are we celebrating those growth mindset characteristics in them.

So, the Mathematician of the Month began with that. Let's teach our students what a true mathematician is and does, and how they speak and then let's look for ways to celebrate them for that. And then, let's celebrate them! And put their faces on the wall and give them a certificate and have them experience those moments where they can affirm with their own words, "I am a mathematician. And this is why." And I think that's really where that started, just with the goal of, let's highlight math just as much as we do literacy. And let's begin to allow our teachers to get excited about math and also our students to get excited about math, but also most importantly, really defining what math is.

Math is not just a test that we take or a fact that we learn. Math is fun, it's interactive, and you are a mathematician and we can celebrate that too.

Desiree Harrison 10:28

You've made some great points there, because, the first step - put math on the wall. So it's something that simple that is not overwhelming for teachers even if they might not be in a frame of mind where they're believing that all students can do math or that math isn't about just speed and accuracy that's still something - oh! I can start here. And it gives everybody a common grounding point.

Mariana Breaux 10:55

Yeah, and I think the motto for me was, "If you build it they will come." And that was really it. If I put it up, kids are attracted to math, right, if we put it in a playful way. Because math is fun! So, you build it, they will come. You really don't even need to explain much. If you just put it on the wall, and say, "here's a sticky note. Grab it and tell me your thoughts." They have thoughts, and they want to share them. Just put it on the walls and see what happens. And what's happened has been really great. Our kids are engaging with it, and having fun, and coming back.

Desiree Harrison 11:27

And that's what we want. Them to come back and continue to explore.

Commercial Break 11:32

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Desiree Harrison 11:48

So Mariana, you work in some of the schools and then Kirsta you work in a different set of schools? Or, are you all kind of like tag teaming?

Kirsta Jenne

Kirsta Jenne 11:56

So, we're campus based so we each have a different campus. So each campus in our district has its own instructional coach for math.

Desiree Harrison 12:04

Oh! That's fantastic!

So then Kirsta, you're doing the same types of activities then?

Kirsta Jenne 12:10

Actually, the first time I heard Mariana talking about her Mathematician of the Month and her Mathematician Street and all of her initiatives, I was still a classroom teacher. And so, I was thinking, like, oh my gosh! Same thing you were saying when you started, like, "Oh! This sounds so fun! I want to be a part of this." It was the same thing hearing her share. And so, I wanted to bring that back to my classroom, and to my students. So, I was trying to think of ways I could do it in my classroom. And so, again little things like putting "I Can" statements on things to make the students feel like they are capable, they are mathematicians. Even changing the names of my workstations. We made it like a "I heart Math" and so each letter was a different thing. So, it was just like fun little things we did to just get kids excited. And just excited to do math and be a part of it. And so when it was time for math, it wasn't like a negative reaction or even an apathetic reaction, it was an excited positive reaction.

And once you get started, it just kind of spirals and so, I would start, like, hanging stuff up in my classroom. Like, little challenges and stuff that I saw her doing and then it would kind of go into my pod for my grade level. And then we started to see stuff around our schools. So, ours at first, when it started at my campus that I was teaching at, was sort of teacher driven just because the teachers saw things and got really excited about it. And so, when I became a coach at a different campus last year, I knew that was something that I really wanted to initiate more there. And so, that was one of the first things I did was getting there and hanging up some bright boards, just to get the kids excited and to get everybody's attention. Even the teacher's attention when they were coming in. Like seeing hallway work if they had stuff in the hallways. Just commenting and leaving notes about how awesome that was and building those relationships and things like that. Just ways to celebrate growth and accomplishments and not just the students, but the teachers. Just any opportunity to celebrate those things.

Desiree Harrison 14:06

If it's teacher driven, I'm wondering how it got from off the wall and really into thinking about beliefs.

Janet Nuzzie 14:14

Well, in thinking about that, I think they're - like you said- there's this whole process that so multifaceted, right, and so, we're a district of 36 elementary campuses, which means along the way, everyone is joined in in different parts of the journey at different times. But we've-the conversations, in thinking about -- when we talked about the Math Workshop Model, what that represented was really a shift in a mindset about what mathematics instruction looks like and sounds like. And so, moving from a very traditional based approach of mostly whole group instruction, that the whole group instruction that was probably mostly teacher driven, as opposed to student centered, the Mathematics Workshop Model gave us this lens to kind of shift what that looked like, make our instruction more student centered, but for our instruction to be student centered, we had to think about: Well, what do those experiences look like? What does that community of learners need to look like? If we're developing this community of learners that looks like this- that can't exist without the right mindset about what mathematics should look like and sound like.

And so, coupled in with what was shared earlier about drawing attention to mathematics across the district with all different stakeholders, was them starting to have conversations district-wide about mindsets, and so, we started using, like Mariana shared, work from Dr. Nicki Newton and also work from Dr. Jo Boaler. We started pulling Jo Boaler's resources into our district-wide professional development sessions that all teachers in our district participate in, and we started dropping conversations about it in 10-15 minutes chunks at each of our meetings. And we would talk about it in the start of our school year. We'd talk about it in the middle of the fall semester. We'd come back to it again in January. We revisited it in the Spring. We just kept building these chunks of conversations about mathematical mindsets to allow our teachers, 1 - to address their own mindsets based on their own experiences and really to consider how their experiences are impacting - could be impacting - in a positive way our students experiences, or could be possibly hindering experiences based on our own experiences and our mindsets. But then, how do we take what we've learned and then make sure though, that we've got the right environments for our students. And so, one other piece to add to that was, a piece of our conversation was then developing mathematical norms for our classrooms. If we're going to learn that this is what a mathematical mindset is and that mathematical mindsets we want to instill in our students, then what are the norms for mathematics classrooms? And that became then, a conversation that eventually every grade level had. And every grade level's a part of the conversation was to determine their norms, put them up on chart paper, and be a piece that we came back and revisited in these district level conversations. And so, one way that this work as Mathematician Street and Mathematician of the Month transpired, was from those conversations about really thinking about what does it mean for our students to be able to be a mathematician? To work like a mathematician? To sound like a mathematician? But front loading that, again, was just addressing mindsets about mathematics.

Mariana Breaux 17:30

And I will add on to that.

Transcript in Progress

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