Tag Archives: growth mindset

BreakoutEdu for the Win

My usual bag of tricks has not been extremely successful at my new school, especially in my engineering classes.  I didn’t bank on the fact that middle/high schoolers don’t want to appear interested even if they are – and most things that I have to share with them are apparently not even worth sitting around and appearing disinterested, judging by the steady stream of students asking to go to the bathroom.

I even tried the Hour of Code with a group.  But nothing I said could convince them that making games might be just as, if not more, fun than playing them.

It has definitely been a bit humbling.  Sometimes depressing.  Often humiliating.  I’m still trying to convince a lot of these students they can trust me, and they become immediately suspicious whenever I introduce something new into the mix.

Our high school students went on a trip last week, so the 8th graders were stuck with me.  I assumed (correctly) that they were not going to want to “work” (their current tortuous project is to design something in Tinkercad) while their classmates were kayaking.  So, I decided to try a BreakoutEdu with them.

I chose a fairly simple challenge since I knew most of the students had never done one before.  And I dangled the idea of a reward at the end. (A couple of chocolate candy Kisses)

I had two goals for them: collaboration and perseverance.

As I set them free to look for clues, I waited with bated breath for the inevitable, “This is too hard,” or, “This is boring.”

It didn’t happen.

The challenge took them about 30 minutes.  Nobody fought.  Nobody gave up.  Nobody surreptitiously kept taking out a phone to check Snapchat.

And no one asked to go to the bathroom.

After they finished, and we were reflecting as a class, one student said, “This is a great way to learn.  Every teacher should do this!”

But the kicker came from one of my other students, someone who always tries to figure out what’s in it for her before she applies any effort.

“Can we do this again?” she asked.  “And you don’t even have to give us a reward,” she promised me. As she popped a candy Kiss into her mouth.

Now. That. Is. Huge.

For my first post on BreakoutEdu, click here.

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Not my students.  But just as engaged.  From Kentucky Country Day School on Flickr

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

First of all, this is the best book title I’ve ever seen.  It is intriguing when you see the cover, and totally makes sense on a variety of levels once you read the book.  Even the author’s name, Dusti Bowling, seems perfect for a story set in a theme park in Arizona.

I think I first learned that Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus existed from @TechNinjaTodd on Twitter months ago.  Before I even had a chance to read the book, I followed @Dusti_Bowling on Twitter and she almost immediately followed me – which I took as a sign that I am a Very Important Person.  After reading her tweets for a few month, I realized that Dusti Bowling is just a down-to-earth author who responds quickly to her readers.  She also supports her fellow authors by recommending other great books, and Skypes with students on a regular basis.  So, it turns out that, to Dusti Bowling, everyone is an important person – a theme she models in this book.

I finally got some time to read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus a few days ago, and I was not disappointed.  The main character, Aven, is a young girl who was born without arms.  Her adopted parents have raised her to be a confident problem-solver instead of a helpless complainer.  She can do pretty much anything with her feet, and the friends she has grown up with don’t even notice her unconventional methods anymore.  However, Aven becomes much more self-conscious about her uniqueness when the family moves from Kansas to Arizona.  Starting a new school with students who have never seen a person eat with her feet, Aven realizes the one problem she can’t solve is that some people fear those who are different.  Just when she seems to have reached her lowest point, Aven meets a few friends who have also been mistreated due to their differences.  Throw in some tarantulas, a tantalizing mystery, and the declining Wild West theme park her parents manage, and Aven must summon up all of her will-power to ensure the family’s move to Arizona doesn’t end up as a disaster.

This is a great book to use for teaching empathy, perseverance, and the power of a growth mindset. (For another great story that has those themes, I also recommend Fish in a Tree.) I could see using it as a class read-aloud in grades 3 and up.  To learn more about the inside story of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you can visit the StoryMamas website for an interview with the author.  If your class wants to ask the author more questions, be sure to fill out the form on Dusti Bowling’s home page to request a Skype with her.

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Find out where you can buy this book!

Week of Inspirational Math #3

Earlier this summer I wrote about an inspiring session at ISTE co-presented by Jo Boaler and Alice Keeler. Boaler is dedicated to spreading the word that anyone can be a math person as long as you have a growth mindset and appropriate learning opportunities.  As a Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford, Jo Boaler co-founded youcubed.org, and has presented a new “Week of Inspirational Math” curriculum on the site annually for free for the last two years.  Week 3 has just been published on the site, and is ready for educators from K-12 to use.  Having used the Week 1 and Week 2 curriculums in the past, I would highly recommend that you begin your school year with one or all three of these sets of math lessons.  The activities are broken down into grade-level strands, so there is no need to fear that your Kindergarten children will be asked to solve high school equations. 🙂

This year’s lesson include videos, PDF’s, and even access to a program called “Polyup,” which you can learn more about here.

I have personally witnessed students who believe they are “bad at math” be successful with these activities and become excited about doing more.  Those who have had negative experiences learning math can turn these around with thoughtful conversation and the passion of a teacher who believes in them.   Put Week 3 of “Week of Inspirational Math” into your beginning of the year lesson plans, and watch as your students learn to love math!

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image from Clement.sim on Flickr

Make No Mistake About It

I’ve become a bit concerned with how the word “failure” has been flung around lately – as though it is something we should strive for and flaunt.  I understand the sentiment behind this – growth mindset, stepping outside our comfort zone, taking risks, etc…  But “failure” will never have anything but a negative connotation to me.  To me, it is synonymous with “loser” or “quitter,” and features prominently in the speech of bullies.

What I do want my students to understand is that they shouldn’t be so afraid of making mistakes that they become fearful of attempting new adventures.  I am careful with how I speak about this in class, though.  I don’t want students to feel like mistakes are a goal; they are simply a possible by-product of learning. (Notice that I say “possible,” not “necessary.”  Learning can happen without mistakes in many circumstances – so I think it is wrong to tell students mistakes are required in order to learn.)

The truth is that not all mistakes are equally valuable.  There are different types of mistakes as well as different types of reactions, and I want my students to understand that. That’s why I was really excited when I came across this article from “Mindset Works”.  It includes this great visual that I think really explains the classification of mistakes.

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As you can see, the potential for learning exists in all mistakes, but “sloppy mistakes” (what I usually call “careless mistakes”) are probably not going to yield as much benefit as “stretch mistakes”.  According to the article, “Stretch mistakes happen when we’re working to expand our current abilities. We’re not trying to make these mistakes in that we’re not trying to do something incorrectly, but instead, we’re trying to do something that is beyond what we already can do without help, so we’re bound to make some errors.”

So, as we teach our students about growth mindset and the “Power of Yet,” I think it is important that we avoid glorifying failure.  Instead, we should help our students to understand that, though they shouldn’t be steering straight for mistakes, they should recognize the types of mistakes and always reflect on lessons that can be learned.

Class Dojo Mindfulness Series

The Class Dojo “Big Ideas” series is growing.  Up until now you could find videos on: Perseverance, Growth Mindset, Empathy, and Gratitude.  The latest theme is, “Mindfulness.”  So far, only the first video has been released.  In the past, the schedule has been to publish one per week.  As with the other videos, there are discussion questions to use after viewing the short video.  There is an also an option to share the video through “Class Story” with parents.  The first video is a timely one for me as my students are currently practicing presentations of their Genius Hour research.  I’m kind of curious to find out how Mojo solves his problem of “The Beast,” one that I grapple with quite a bit!

By the way, you can find more Growth Mindset videos and resources here.

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Screen Shot from Class Dojo’s “Big Ideas” page

FIAT Contest/Celebration

Fish in a Tree, the awesome book by Lynda Mullaly Hunt that I reviewed here, has just come out in paperback.  The paperback includes the main character, Ally’s, complete Sketchbook of Impossible Things.  In honor of this, Hunt has launched a nationwide contest for students in 3rd-8th grades to create their own incredibly unique writing or artwork, photos of which must be received by May 12, 2017.  You can find all of the details, including the list of prizes, here.

Also, if you have time, Mrs. Hunt recently did a live webcast for School Library Journal, and I think that you can view the archive by registering here.  My 3rd graders and I watched it today, and found it very inspirational.  Mrs. Hunt talks about her own learning difficulties, the many real-life models for her characters, and how her long-term goals helped to keep her on track.  If you have spoken to your students about growth mindset and grit, then you will find her speech will really resonate with them!

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New in paperback here!

The Boy Who Learned to Fly

Ever since watching “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” I have been a huge fan of Moonbot Studios.  In this video for Gatorade about Usain Bolt, Moonbot once again captures the imagination with vivid imagery and animation.  In seven minutes, the story of Bolt’s journey from a young boy in Jamaica to a world champion unfurls.  It’s inspirational and a fitting tribute to a man who literally lives up to his name.

For more inspirational videos, click here.

Screen Shot from The Boy Who Learned to Fly
Screen Shot from The Boy Who Learned to Fly