Problem Solving Through Mistakes

Jo Boaler published a paper on her website,, that states current brain research indicates that “Mistakes Grow Your Brain.”  We thought this was very important for our students to know, but also to be able to practice in our classroom.  We first introduced the idea through a video on Growth Mindset in Class Dojo and expanded on it with our first 3 Act Math lesson of the year.  Since then, our students have embraced the idea and have begun to enter into conversations about how we can critique each others work and learn from our mistakes.  We think this is the best possible way to problem solve.

Last Thursday, I held a small group lesson on pairs to 5 using a five frame.  Students have had several lessons on five frames and this was the first day we were using dry-erase markers to write the number sentences for each five-frame using how many full, how many empty.  Instead of providing praise for correct answers, I had made it a point to call on students who made mistakes to show their board.  When I saw a mistake, I would ask if I could see their board, and then I would ask, “who can help me find the mistake on this board?”  The students who were incorrect were excited to see where they had stumbled and eager to fix it and the students who got it correct were equally as eager to explain where they think the error occurred.  After the student explained, I would ask the other student, “so do you know what you need to fix?” or “does that makes sense, can you correct your board?”  I was actually quite shocked to find that each and every time the student who had made the mistake would smile and happily correct their board.  It had turned into a type of game to them and they were excited to “grow their brain.”

Many times, I would comment, “I feel my brain growing.”  Students responded with “me too” and have started using similar phrases during lessons.

One of the students I was worried might not take so well to the idea of critiquing mistakes actually chose to come back to the group and have another math lesson instead of going to his “may do” options.  Upon his second lesson, he commented “at least I didn’t put an equal sign instead of a plus this time!”

I am so excited about the attitude toward mistakes and problem solving in our class! I can’t wait to grow our brain tomorrow!

2 thoughts on “Problem Solving Through Mistakes

  1. I love Boaler’s work! We’re going to continue studying it in our district math leadership team this year and come up with a plan for implementing it w/in our own classes and for spreading the work to other classes!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s