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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I posted last year about the Week of Inspirational Math resources provided on YouCubed.org. I used these with my 3rd grade class (there are versions for K-12), and the students really enjoyed this approach to math. The set of activities and videos promotes a growth mindset in math, and I felt that it really set a great tone for the rest of the school year as we worked on challenges.
I’m happy to see that professor JoAnn Boaler and the team at YouCubed.org have produced Week of Inspirational Math 2, which looks just as promising as the WIM1. The videos provided with this new WIM are a bit more fun, while still remaining faithful to the theory that anyone can be a math person.
Having personally experienced my own metamorphosis from “not a math person” to someone who excelled in math in high school, I am a firm believer that too many of us get caught in the myths and stereotypes that make us believe only a pre-determined group of people can understand math. I have witnessed in my own classroom students who have given up on the subject and, with effort on both our parts, turned this fixed mindset around to become students who enjoy math.
If you have the opportunity to start your year with one or two weeks of Inspirational Math, I think you will find it is an excellent use of time that will pay off for the remainder of your school year.