What does it mean to be great at math? For sixth graders in Intermediate Program faculty member Kelly Brinson’s class, their approach to this question can influence their perception of their ability, as well as themselves, for the rest of their lives. “I think it is important for students to have the confidence that they can do anything,” emphasized Brinson. “One of the great myths of all time is that being ‘good’ in math is a gift and something that you either have or you don’t have. I’ve had students come into my room at the beginning of the year and tell me ‘I am not a math person. I can’t do this.’ Of course, that is not at all true, but squashing that mindset is the first thing that has to happen.”

To combat any preconceived negative connotations, Brinson purposely began her classes this year by asking her students to draw on both their strengths and weaknesses to redefine what makes a good mathematician. Working virtually for the first two weeks, her students used the Padlet app to offer their thoughts, acknowledge their doubts and biases, and share their budding confidence. “I can do math pretty well, but I don’t know all the answers,” wrote Lillie Jackson ’27. “I think to be a math person you have to be willing to pay attention in class and study a lot so you know and can learn all the answers.” Agreeing with her classmate, Genevieve Gouvernet ’27 noted, “You need to be open to learning and open to new ideas. To put it simply, you just need to have the passion for learning to be a ‘math person.’”

Many students’ posts reflected Brinson’s lesson of perseverance. “I also think that being great at math doesn’t just mean that you are smart; it also means that you don’t give up even if everyone else does,” wrote Belle Raffle ’27. For Brinson, such beliefs are the first step in the right direction. “I wanted to give my students a voice immediately, even if it was through a virtual means using Padlet, so they could be ‘heard,” she said. “It also has allowed me a way to connect and get to know them better.” That certainly is an equation for success.

Did you know? According to the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, girls’ school grads are six times more likely to consider majoring in math, science, and technology compared to girls who attended coed schools.