All Things Being Equal: Why Math is the Key to a Better World
by John Mighton (founder of JUMP Math)—Published January, 2020, by Alfred A. Knopf, Canada
Review by Moira Theede, (March, 2020)
All Things Being Equal: Why Math is the Key to a Better World (2020) was written by John Mighton, O.C. He is a mathematician, author, and the founder of JUMP Math 1997 (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies). jumpmath.org.
In 2010 John Mighton was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada for his playwriting, and for his development of JUMP Math. This book is about Mighton’s strong belief that all learners have the intellectual potential to succeed in mathematics. He outlines how a numerate society will lead to a better world.
John Mighton himself struggled with math and he tells how, “The bell curve helped me pass my calculus exam at university.” After tutoring math to students, he returned to university at age 31 to study and do his PhD in math, becoming immersed in math and loving it.
He started the JUMP Math Charity, and over the last 20 years, Mighton and his team have dedicated their lives to developing “instructional methods for fostering intellectual potential in all children learning math,” where critical thinking skills such as seeing patterns, thinking logically and systematically, drawing analogies, risk analysis, and understanding cause and effect, etc. emerge when learning math. He draws on cognitive research, brain plasticity and incremental learning strategies that don’t overwhelm students because the lesson plans are scaffolded to focus on one topic at a time, paced by teachers who are supported and guided with detailed manuals. Teacher Resources outline the detailed and rigorous scaffolding needed for teaching each lesson’s content (Kindergarten to Grade 8). These resources for teachers provide a guide to the JUMP Math approach.
John Mighton’s mutual respect towards students, and his firm belief that they all have the potential to do math, comes across to the class as a whole. Skillful scaffolding where the instruction steps are one topic at a time, JUMP Math content and approach allow students to come along together in a collective engagement process. “When students all conceive an idea or master a challenge at the same time, they can be swept up in a form of collective effervescence. The excitement makes every student feel that math is intrinsically interesting and worth learning.” Research consistently shows the impact JUMP has on students’ motivation and success. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck said, “JUMP Math already implicitly incorporates a lot of growth mindset principles… the kids are moving at an exciting pace, it feels like it should be hard but it’s not too hard for them… they all have the feeling of progress, and they all get the feeling that, ‘I can be good at this.’”
Today over 150,000 students in North America are using the JUMP Math program, and it is being used in other countries as well. “In a pilot in Bulgaria, observers reported that students were happier, more engaged, and more co-operative in classes that used JUMP. Supply teachers could tell if a class was using these learning strategies, even when math wasn’t being taught, because the students were more engaged and curious and better at working together.” I’d consider this a positive social determinant for health and well-being.
In the first part of this book, Mighton tells many stories of student successes (individual and group), ie. a grade five class in Toronto going from an average mean of 54% to a class mean of 98% after one year of JUMP. One student was three years behind when she entered this class and at the end of one year scored in the 95th percentile. Imagine learners enthusiastic about math because it helped them believe in themselves and develop effort and practice skills.
On one occasion, Mighton was teaching a grade five class in Vancouver how to translate binary codes into numbers. Students were at the place where they could work on their own and he had written questions on the board. He had noticed that a boy who seemed small for his age was rapidly filling up a piece of paper with calculations. John glanced at his paper and saw that, “He was writing down the numbers from one to fifteen and translating them into binary codes,” (a little more difficult) on his own. With the boy’s permission, John held up his paper and showed them (classmates) his work… “Then I challenged the class to figure out how to ‘crack the code’ as he (boy) had done.” After class, the teacher told John the following: The boy had been born with a weak heart and was not expected to live more than a few years. The boy had always struggled with math and could become extremely anxious and frustrated when he encountered difficulties. The teacher, in a later email correspondence, conveyed to John Mighton that the student “grew ten feet tall” during that lesson, and that when he went home that afternoon, he created his own book of binary codes and filled the pages with his calculations.”—I CAN DO THIS!—“He eventually told his parents he wanted them to hire a tutor to help him catch up, because he had decided he was going to be a mathematician.”
John Mighton’s JUMP Math program creates an experience where the classroom becomes a safe place to learn together. And maybe “collective effervescence” gives students a direct experience of a sense of TRUST believing in themselves.
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Since writing this review some weeks ago, the COVID-19 virus has changed many parts of the world. I would like to acknowledge in this writing the contributions of mathematicians, epidemiologists, health professionals, researchers, and leaders guiding us as we deal with the present pandemic in Canada. It is the understanding of mathematics that helps us recognize the importance of the “slope of the curve” (spread of COVID-19), which we have heard about on the news. Each action we take personally influences the whole as we work together to decrease the slope of the curve.
Moira Theede, BSN, MSc, teaches about the Science of Connectedness (Polyvagal Theory) and neuroplasticity. She has also been passionate about the work of John Mighton, O.C., creator of the JUMP Math program, since hearing him speak in 2010 at a Neuroscience and Learning Conference at the University of British Columbia. She is a JUMP Math volunteer. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also see the display ad on page 11 of the 26.1 September/October issue of the WHOLifE Journal.