The Thinking Classroom

Peter Liljedahl is a Professor of Mathematics Education at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University and former high school teacher..  Frustrated by the number of students who graduated high school with little understanding of the concepts underlying mathematics, and with even less interest in or affection for the subjects, in 2014 he started practical research on what has since been come to be known as “The Thinking Classroom”.

The results have attracted enthusiastic international attention for identifying 14 practical effective and simple methods that transformed the ordinary classrooms that he studied.  These low-cost changes when introduced in the right order have led to significant improvements in learning, critical thinking, and student empathy and resilience as well as a new-found appreciation for the beauty and value of mathematics.

Some of the changes are common-sense ones (“de-fronting” the classroom, use meaningful notes, evaluate what you value).  But some would seem to have no, or possibly a negative, effect on student learning, behaviour, or attitudes (have students work in groups of three on vertical surfaces, visibly select the groups randomly, give spoken instructions).


Dr. Liljedahl’s team also observed that the order that these changes were introduced mattered. 

When confronted with these new instructional practices, many students became confused and suspicious.  So did their parents. To gain their trust and change their minds, he has teachers combine the new practices into 4 groups.  The next group of changes is introduced only after the students were comfortable with the practices in the previous one.

                                                       Step 1     Step 2
                                            Step 3
Step 4


At a time when vast amount of resources and angst are being expended on improved math engagement and competence, it may be that the simple and effective methods of the Thinking Classroom are part of the solution.  The major obstacle won’t likely be a lack of money, or obsolete textbooks, or even the limitation of a given teacher’s math knowledge.  The real obstacle is likely to be the reluctance of the education community and parents to break with tradition.