Student difficulty with mathematics has been a pervasive and systemic problem since the advent of public education—not because students can’t learn mathematics, but because, by and large, students can’t learn it by being told how to do it. For the last 25 years, there has been a concerted effort to change this reality by transitioning to more progressive and student-centered pedagogies. And progress has been made. Yet, something is still missing. Systemically, we are still struggling with student failure, low self-efficacy, and massive student disengagement.

Then I stumbled onto what it was that we are missing—thinking. Student thinking in mathematics. In a 2003 study across a wide variety of mathematics classrooms, I found that only 20% of our students did any thinking whatsoever, and even then, only for about 20% of a lesson. The rest of the students spent their time slacking, stalling, faking, and mimicking—none of which could be counted as the type of thinking we know students need to do in order to be successful, and continue to be successful, in mathematics. And in hindsight, this is no great surprise. Yes, we want our students to think. But we have been asking them to do so within classrooms that have largely remained unchanged since their post-industrial revolution inception—classrooms that were designed to create conformity and compliance. We are asking students to achieve our 21st century goals in 19th century classrooms.

Building Thinking Classrooms (BTC) is a reaction to this reality. It is the culmination of over 15 years of research to find ways to create structures that are not only conducive to thinking, but encourages and necessitates thinking. Working within the existing four walls of the classrooms and the existing bell schedule, BTC looks at how we can create the changes necessary to our classrooms and pedagogy to get students to think. In this, BTC challenges everything, from where students work, to who they work with, to what they work on. It reimagines what it means to launch a task, provide students with hints and extensions, and consolidate an activity. From something as simple as where students are when we give a task to how to do formative and summative assessment, BTC offers you ways to more effectively get students thinking about mathematics. And, in turn, helps students to learn mathematics. The book, this website, and the communities of educators it has spawned, will help you to build your own thinking classroom.

I wish both you and your students lots of succes in teaching and learning mathematics!

Peter Liljedahl

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