Author Judy Willis is a middle and elementary school teacher and a former neurologist who has written a number of books on the brain and learning. Her latest book, *Learning to Love Math*, examines strategies for building math “positivity” in students (published by ASCD, http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108073.aspx). She states, “Before children can become interested in math, they have to be comfortable with it. Students build resilience and coping strategies when they learn how to use their academic strengths to build math skills and strategies. Your intervention helps them strengthen the networks that carry information through their brains’ emotional filters to the area where higher-order thinking skills are concentrated, the prefrontal cortex (PFC). With practice, they will be able to use the highest-level analytical networks in the PFC to evaluate incoming information and discover creative solutions to math problems (in addition to problems in all subject areas). ”

Willis examines three primary strategies – family conferences, re-testing students, and demonstrating the value of math.

Family conferences can help parents learn some of the scientific evidence linking the effects of stress, that they may inadvertently place on their children with high expectations, to their children’s academic success. Conferences allow educators to help families understand that “the first step to math success is a positive attitude toward the subject matter, not just to the grades associated with it.”

Willis urges educators to reassure all students that they will have opportunities to achieve highe grades through re-testing. She allows all students who score less than 85 to re-test. Her reasoning is that “because progress in math is so strongly based on foundational knowledge, students need to achieve mastery in each topic—which forms the basis from which students can extend their neural networks of patterns and concepts—before they move to the next level. Retests provide opportunities to reevaluate answers and make corrections, as necessary.”

Finally, according to Willis, “key to developing students’ interest in math is to capture their imaginations. Instead of allowing them to think of math as an isolated subject, show the extended values of math in ways they find inspiring.”

What are your strategies for build “positivity” in students in math or science?

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**Middle School Portal 2**publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/18/2012.