Building Identity Through Mathematician Statements

One way that I help my students build their individual identities as mathematicians and our group identity as a community of mathematicians is through mathematician statements. This an idea borrowed from the literacy world, and I think viewing oneself as a mathematical thinker is just as crucial to the teaching and learning of mathematics as viewing oneself as a reader and writer is to the teaching and learning of reading and writing. Just as we spend significant time exploring what “readers and writers do” we must also spend time with our students understanding just what it is that “mathematicians do.”

Notice that I don’t qualify mathematicians by saying “good mathematicians” or any other descriptor. This is a really critical point. The good/bad dichotomy is particularly dangerous in mathematics where, as a society, we have spent a lot of time separating people into two groups, those who are good at math and those of us regular people who are not. Just think about how much more acceptable it is to say, “I’ve never been good at math” than “I’ve never been a reader.” I think we, as teachers, can work against this by embracing and noticing the mathematician in all children. Not good, not bad, just mathematician.

Mathematician statements can be introduced and practiced through any kind of mathematical content. It is often helpful to make charts of mathematician statements with student-generated examples, drawings, and photos of your community of mathematicians at work that serve as anchors and reminders of the important work of mathematicians.

Mathematician statements (I use the phrase “what mathematicians do” when working with students), like standards, help us focus and guide our instruction. Here are some mathematician statements from my book that are related to the building of mathematical identity and community. You can also check out my book for many more ideas for mathematician statements.

We Are All Mathematicians: Identity-Building Statements

  •  Mathematicians are curious. (When my class focuses on this statement, we always study Albert Einstein and his great quote “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.”) 
  • Mathematicians ask themselves questions.
  • Mathematicians need lots of time to think, think, think.
  • Mathematicians look for challenging problems in their world to figure out.
  • Mathematicians persevere.
  • Mathematicians make lots of mistakes, but they keep on thinking.
  • Mathematicians change their ideas and strategies and come up with new ones. Then they change their ideas again. This is part of being a mathematician.
  • Mathematicians talk to and question other mathematicians in order to help themselves understand.
  • Mathematicians do not always agree! Disagreeing respectfully is part of being a mathematician.
  • Mathematicians work together. They explain their ideas and thinking. They listen to the thinking of other mathematicians.

What mathematician statements will you use with your students as you start the year?

Note: This post is the second in an ongoing series I’ll be posting about building communities of mathematicians. I’ll continue to post periodically on this topic.


3 thoughts on “Building Identity Through Mathematician Statements

  1. This is fantastic! In our school, we spend a lot of time building Success Criteria, and I think that this would match up nicely. I’m definitely going to do this activity with my students. Thanks for sharing your great ideas!


  2. I love these statements. When I began reading I was thinking of more content-specific statements and I was prepared to feel a bit dulled by them. These statements, these big ideas about the kind of thinking and work mathematicians do are amazing!

    1. Yes, I like to think of these statements as process statements. I do use content statements as well, but actually think the process ones are the most important of all.

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