Category Archives: Motivation

The Bravery Deficit

In yesterday’s episode of TED Radio Hour, “Nudge,” one of the featured talks was by Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code.  In her TED Talk, Saujani speaks of our nation’s bravery deficit, saying that, “Our economy, our society, we’re just losing out because we’re not raising our girls to be brave.”

I listened to Reshma Saujani with interest, but froze when I heard her relate this anecdote from her experiences with Girls Who Code, “During the first week, when the girls are learning how to code,a student will call her over and she’ll say, ‘I don’t know what code to write.’ The teacher will look at her screen, and she’ll see a blank text editor. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think that her student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen. But if she presses undo a few times, she’ll see that her student wrote code and then deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn’t get it exactly right.Instead of showing the progress that she made, she’d rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust.”

The reason this example electrified me was because I had just witnessed the same phenomenon last week, but hadn’t recognized it.

During the “Undercover Robots Camp” session I held last week, the teams were tasked with programming their robots to “save” three plastic figures at various locations on the floor.  The groups immediately headed for the craft table to design augmentations for the robots to help pick up the plastic figures.

As I observed the groups, I noticed that a few of them felt the need to add more to their robots when they noticed their designs didn’t work.  They didn’t take things off – just kept adding things.  A couple of them began to look like robot anteater hybrids because the teams kept adding longer “scoopers” to the front, and I found it very intriguing that they never reflected on what might need to be changed or subtracted – just that they needed “more.”

Those groups, interestingly enough, were comprised almost entirely of boys (1 girl out of 7).  I had one all-girl group, who seemed to have the opposite strategy – do nothing.  They looked like they were doing something every time I strolled by the table, but nothing stayed on their robot, and they had not even begun the programming part of the task.

After a break, where I talked to all of the groups about really thinking about what might need to be changed instead of just randomly selecting new things to add to the robots, the other 3 groups took my suggestion to heart and began to modify their constructions.  The all-girl group continued to struggle.  I was concerned that they weren’t getting along with each other, and encouraged them to discuss their ideas, or maybe delegate tasks.   Nothing I could say seemed to help, though.

When time was up, the girls had nothing on their robot, and only a few lines of code.  I felt like I had failed in helping them, and I’m sure they didn’t feel too happy, either.

All weekend, I wondered how I could have handled the situation differently.  And then I heard Reshma Saujani.  I realized why my advice to those girls had been useless; I wasn’t addressing the real problem.  Although communication may have been a factor, the true issue was that they just couldn’t figure out how to do the task perfectly.

Now, I don’t believe that every girl strives for perfection and that boys never do.  But I have seen students of both genders who don’t know how to adjust to making mistakes; they treat errors like kryptonite.  As Reshma Saujani states, it is quite likely our society contributes to this type of mindset in girls – particularly by raising boys to be “rough and tumble” and girls to be “safe.”

If I could rewind back to last Friday, I would sit with those girls and ask for their ideas.  I would ask them to choose one to try, and we would try it together.  We would reflect on it afterward and make some changes to make it better.  I might even tell them about Reshma Saujani’s talk, and ask them what they think.

Just to be clear, I am not advocating for us to teach children to deliberately make mistakes or fail.  What we need to do is to teach them to deliberate thoughtfully, and to learn from imperfection rather than to be paralyzed by it.


Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Engagement

My latest post for Fusion is out, “15 Actionable Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Engagement.” There are plenty of other great posts by writers from around the world on the Fusion blog, so it’s definitely worth a visit!  One recent one that I enjoyed was, “30 Inspiring Quotes for Teachers that will get You Through the Day,” by James Johnson.

Two of my other past Fusion posts are:

I pulled lots of good resources together for each article, so you will definitely find at least one new idea in each post!

15 Actionable Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Engagement

My latest blog post for Fusion Yearbooks has been published.  It’s called, “15 Actionable Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Engagement.”  You should check it out!

With Math I Can

Jo Boaler, Professor of Math Education at Stanford University, and Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology (also at Stanford) have teamed up with several industry partners, including Amazon, to launch an initiative called, “With Math I Can.”  Dweck’s name will sound familiar to those of you who have heard of “Growth Mindset,” and Boaler specifically promotes the importance of having a growth mindset in math.

I’ve mentioned (one of Boaler’s many projects) on this blog a few times due to its great resources for teaching students how to have a healthy attitude about math.  With Math I Can has a similar purpose, but seems to be targeting a larger audience as it encourages you to take the following pledge:

Pledge from "With Math I Can"
Pledge from “With Math I Can

The site gives video resources for the classroom, your district, and home that include the recent set of “Big Ideas” videos from Class Dojo, along with the statistics and brain research that explain why we need to teach students that math is accessible to everyone.  The introduction video on the home page can be used to inspire teachers and parents to think carefully about the messages we send about our own attitudes toward math.

Hopefully, initiatives like “With Math I Can” will help young people to stop saying, “I’m just not good at math,” to “I’m just not good at math, yet.”

Rock, Paper, and Scissors – Can They Be Friends?

The latest “Be Together. Not the Same” video from Android looks at the relationship among Rock, Paper, and Scissors in a completely different way.  What if they actually use their differences to help others out?  The resulting story delivers a cute message about standing up to bullies and embracing your uniqueness.  The music from St. Elmo’s Fire doesn’t hurt, either😉

In case you haven’t seen last year’s Android video with the same moral, here is a link to that post. (Warning: Cute Overload will ensue!)

Monotune, also by Android, continues on the theme.

If you are searching for Inspirational Videos for Kids, check out my Pinterest Board here.

image from Rock, Paper, Scissors video by Android
image from Rock, Paper, Scissors video by Android

The Magic of Mistakes

Class Dojo is creating a series of animated videos for young students to promote a Growth Mindset.  “The Magic of Mistakes” is the second video to be published, and I think it has a great message for your students.  While we don’t want our students to be afraid of making mistakes, we need to be careful about the way we emphasize the importance of mistakes.  Mistakes can be good – but only if you learn from them.  Mojo’s friend, Katie, helps to make that distinction in “The Magic of Mistakes.”

There is a short discussion guide that you can download for the video, which includes questions for parents and students to think about at home.  Class Dojo will be releasing a video for this series once a week for the next three weeks, so be sure to stay tuned!

For more Growth Mindset resources, check out this Pinterest Board, which includes videos that are appropriate for students of all ages (including adults!).

screen shot from Class Dojo's "Magic of Mistakes" video
screen shot from Class Dojo’s “Magic of Mistakes” video

If Money Didn’t Matter…

Powerball tickets can’t be printed fast enough right now.  Everyone has hopes of winning that big prize, of suddenly being in the enviable position of never having to worry about how to pay the bills again.

Many people like to dream about what they would do if they woke up one day to learn they have unlimited wealth.  How would their lives be different?

I feel like I am doing exactly what I have always wanted to do – maybe not with all of the freedom I imagined, but teaching has always been instinctive and fulfilling for me.  It surprises me when people say they never really knew how they wanted to spend their lives and kind of aimlessly went through the motions until they landed in a career.  But I find that is really the majority, and I am more fortunate than I ever would have guessed to be able to identify and live out my passion.

In this video from National Geographic, Alan Watts, a famous philosopher, strongly argues for doing what you love. It’s not necessarily a video I would show to elementary students, but I wish that all high school freshmen could see it.  And I wish that we modeled and supported this whole-heartedly in our educational system…

Alan Watts