Valley Voices

I turn 40 next month and, for pretty much my whole life, I have felt dumb. I’m not.

Fact: I have anxiety about math facts.

▪ I have a degree in math.

▪ I graduated from college with honors.

▪ I got the highest score at my university on the Putnam exam, which is supposedly a big deal to get a non-zero score.

▪ I taught high school math for 14 years.

▪ I am the Queen of Spreadsheets.

▪ I code for fun and share my coding projects.

I repeated the fourth grade due to math facts. After two years of fourth grade, I never passed the timed math tests.

If you ask me to do basic arithmetic in my head, even 7×8, I freeze. My heart races. I try to dodge the question. I’m perfectly capable.

I’m more inclined to use strategies when doing math problems than memorization. When I’m alone and tallying student scores on a paper, I do great. If I need to design a spreadsheet and apply math, I excel at that.

I am not alone.

Reading “Mathematical Mindsets” by Jo Boaler, for the first time in my life, I realize I am not dumb.

I turn 40 next month and for pretty much my whole life, I have felt dumb. I struggled with math. Let me rephrase; I struggled with memorizing procedures without understanding the context and concepts.

Here is an important takeaway from Boaler’s book:

Fast is not the same as being smart.

I was damaged by timed math tests. Not just me. This practice causes students to have anxiety about math; to think they are not smart. Memorizing is not critical thinking and it is not an indication of intelligence.

“Fluency Without Fear,” an article on the importance of number fluency over memorization, was my first introduction to the work of Boaler, a Stanford math professor and researcher.

Reading “Mathematical Mindsets” brought me to tears, giant crocodile tears, many times. Easily the most powerful read ever for me.

I am not dumb.

Alice Keeler of Fresno is a passionate educator on a quest to inspire and help teachers become better and more effective in their field with the use of technology.

She is a Google-certified innovator, K-12 ambassador, Microsoft innovative educator trainer, top-ranked educational blogger, and co-author of “50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom” and “50 Things to Go Further With Google Classroom.”

An instructor in the credential program at Fresno State, she travels internationally, speaking about how to best use technology to enhance the educational experience. A mother of five children, you can follow her on Twitter @alicekeeler, visit her website, or email