What Does Mathematical Rigor Mean?

We asked educators: “What does the term ‘mathematical rigor’ mean to you?”

The answers might surprise you! Rather than bringing up being quick, precise or calculating, educators associated rigor in mathematics with creativity, application and problem solving.

Educators from several facebook groups replied, including Youcubed, How to Learn Math, STEM Teacher Tribe and MIND Research Institute.

Here’s how they responded.

Mathematical Rigor Involves Novel Applications

"Something challenging to each individual student, though challenging isn't limited to learning new concepts, it may be equally challenging to learn how to explain an idea, or how to use an idea in a collaborative setting.” 

-Christopher Chiang, Kehillah Jewish High School, Mountain View, CA



“To me mathematical rigor, and really any rigor for that matter, involves students applying their knowledge (in this case mathematics) to new situations. When an authentic task forces students to prove what they know and can do, that to me is the embodiment of rigor. 
- Ashley Pereira, MS. Ed., Hartford, CT.

Mathematical Rigor Promotes Problem Solving

“In my master's program, rigor was seen as a balanced approach where equal emphasis is given to procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, and problem solving.” 
- Tammy Wiggett, Newport City Elementary School, Newport, VT



“Depth...having to pause and think before answering.”
- Karen Wootton, CPM Educational Program, Odenton, MD

“When a student spends more time thinking than drill work.”
- Sai Venkatesh, Step by Step school, Noida, India

Mathematical Rigor Invites Creativity

“For me, eliminating the creativity and the ‘you’ in any field while emphasizing efficiency and hard work would make anyone feel like a cog in a machine. I think that academic rigor should be an internal trait that is developed as inquiry and thoughtfulness develop. If I find joy in a task (coming to ah-ha moments in math, reading a challenging text, getting faster in swimming), I bring the rigor--it doesn't need to be foisted upon me.”
- Shelley Hays, Columbus, OH



“Rigor (to me) means the level of cognitive demand a task holds for students. Open tasks that invite creativity and intuition are much more rigorous than closed, one answer tasks that may have an explicit or implicit "correct" solution pathway. The more we design tasks so that students are responsible for sense-making, reasoning, explanation and justification, and looking for and using patterns and structures in creative ways, the more rigorous our class will be.”
- Joe Roicki, Lake Washington School District, Kirkland, WA

Further Defining Math Rigor

Careful analysis of new assessments and standards lead to some important observations about the kind of educational rigor that develops creative and persistent problem solving. Read the full analysis in the ebook on math rigor by MIND Research Institute.

What is Math Rigor? Download FREE Ebook

Calli Wright

About the Author

Calli Wright was the Marketing Manager at MIND Research Institute. She loves playing and designing board games, which she often talks about on twitter @CalliWrights.


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