It’s a Matter of the Mind(set)

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We have all had the feeling at one time or another that we just aren’t good at something. Many individuals say that they aren’t “math people.” Others might say that they are not good at sports. For the longest time, I thought that I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. That was until I learned that I had a fixed mindset. Now I work to keep a growth mindset. Instead of saying “I’m not good at this,” I say “I’m not good at this…yet.”

Carol Dweck has done extensive research on fixed and growth mindsets. In the video above Dweck describes the difference in each mindset, how they influence our motivations, and how we word our praise can have an effect on these mindsets. A fixed mindset is the belief that we have an inherent ability level, and that once we begin to fail we have reached our peak. This mindset leads to not wanting to be challenged, to blame others for our mistakes, and to take any kind of criticism poorly. A growth mindset is the belief that we grow through our mistakes, and that we can always grow with practice and determination. A person with a growth mindset takes failure as a step towards success. These individuals love to take on new challenges, and they willingly ask others for criticism and advice. These individuals are much more likely to be successful in whatever field they are working in.

A growth mindset is incredibly important to have. In many cases it can be the difference between overall success and failure. If an individual has a fixed mindset, then the first time that they stumble they are likely to complain, blame, and possibly quit. It is embarrassing for these people to fail, because they view failure as a shameful thing.

I have been playing a particular trading card game for about a decade. This game has you create your own deck of cards and create your own strategy to defeat your opponent. For the first few years I played the game with a fixed mindset. I didn’t want to loose, because I felt that it made me look like a novice. I refused to play with people that I knew I would loose against. I even cheated….frequently. As I learned about growth mindsets I began to apply it to my card game. I decided to take on more challenging opponents. I looked for guidance on strategy. I improved my deck with nearly every match. Now I am a much more competent player, and I enjoy playing the game so much more. I see a loss as a chance to reflect and to grow. The power of a growth mindset is a fantastic thing.

Dweck offers a great resource to get people started on a growth mindset in four steps. The first step is learning to recognize the “voice” of a fixed mindset. It is important to focus on what your thoughts are and target the thoughts that align with a fixed mindset. The second step is to make the conscious choice to develop a growth mindset. This feeds into the third and fourth steps. The third step is to answer fixed mindset thoughts with growth mindset answers. The fourth step is live out a growth mindset. It’s important to recognize failures as steps to the goal and to focus on staying passionate about what you are trying to accomplish.

As a person who believes strongly in the power of a growth mindset, I encourage my students to build their growth mindsets as well. I help them work through the four steps mentioned above. I first have them voice out loud their fixed mindset thoughts. I answer their thoughts with growth mindset answers. I encourage them to make the choice to have a growth mindset. And I challenge them to act out their growth mindsets. Over time it starts happening naturally for my students.

Another important step that I use to develop a growth mindset in my learners is to introduce them to the word “yet.” For such a small word, there is such a large potential. I encourage my students to change their thoughts from “This is hard,” to “I can’t do this yet.” I try to start with something that interests my students, such as the hour of code website. This engages the students, and they can see in real time how powerful of a tool learning from our mistakes can be. From there I transition over to academic concepts. This helps my students see that a growth mindset can work in any application.

Along with Hour of Code, I use multiple resources to help my students develop a growth mindset. Class Dojo  Offers a fantastic video series that follows a monster student who is changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It is very engaging, and the kids love to have discussions after each episode. After students have completed the Hour of Code, I have them start working in another coding program known as Scratch. Scratch is more in depth than hour of code, and it has a base of supportive members that like to help and challenge others. For any math teachers, I suggest the website, With Math I Can. This website helps students recognize that math isn’t something that we are innately born knowing how to do. With a growth mindset and practice we can all master math concepts. The website also encourages students to take an oath to develop and maintain a growth mindset.

One of the important considerations to have when developing a growth mindset is that it is a mindset that has to be maintained constantly. It is very easy to fall back into a fixed mindset when we don’t focus on growth and reflection. This is why I encourage my students daily to continuously develop their growth mindset. One of my poster in my room is an acronym for the word fail. It says First Attempt In Learning. I point to that poster anytime a student feels like he or she has messed up. Keeping focused on a growth mindset will help keep us determined and in the end we will all feel more successful.

Developing a growth mindset is a huge part of my innovation plan. Part of the beginning of year plan is to learn about growth and fixed mindsets, and to help students understand that they have the choice to think one way or the other. The mathematics programs are also setup in such a way that students have a chance to reflect and to grow in areas that they demonstrate weaknesses. Students also challenge themselves and work on self improvement with 3d printing and coding exercises. With a growth mindset our students will be able to confidently handle learning and any other challenges that come their way.


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Dweck, C. (2006-2010) How can you change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Dweck, C. (2006-2010) Mindset online.

Dweck, C. (2015, December 15) RSA animate: How to help every child fulfill their potential.


Teaching From Scratch: Coding and Education

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It can be difficult sometimes to engage students. We can go to great lengths to keep our students on task. I will be the first to admit that I have bribed students to perform with the offer of a pizza party. The problem that I ran into was that many students would only stay excited about my contests and competitions for so long. The lower students would quit trying the quickest. I now realize that the engagement of my students reaches deeper than the surface level. Intrinsic motivation is a much more powerful way to build engagement. So I changed my game plan, and Scratch is a big part of that plan.

I love this video because it does a great job of explaining what scratch is, how it’s being used, and how children can benefit from it. When I first saw scratch I was unimpressed. That was because I was looking at it for what it was, and not for what it could be with some creative thinking.

Scratch is a coding program developed by MIT. It allows students to learn the basics of computer coding in an intuitive and engaging way. People can create a myriad of different projects ranging from video games to interactive polls.

So how does this help me to build classroom engagement? Initially the program itself is exciting to the students. They love the idea that they can create video games and movies. Once the initial excitement wears off the students reach a deeper level of engagement. They work hard on their projects, and they want to see their work through. They have ownership and a lot of creative freedom. Another reason that scratch keeps students engaged is that there is no consequences to failing. If a student makes a mistake in the code, they can simply go back and try to fix the problem. This is an added bonus for me because I am always trying to develop a growth mindset in my students.

Through their engagement, students are showcasing their knowledge in math and science. They are also learning problem solving skills and the importance of organization. I am truly glad that I found scratch, and I plan to make a part of my classroom for years to come.

Scratch Resources:


Ipad app

Android app

From I can’t, to I can’t…Yet. Developing a Growth Mindset.

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We have all shared the feeling of defeat. The point where we give up and say that we are just not good at something. I know that I have felt that way about football, and guitar, and a myriad of other things.When we give into the idea that we are not capable of performing a certain task we demonstrate a fixed mindset. The problem for children that develop a fixed mindset is that they stop trying, and they become afraid to try because they are afraid to fail. So what can we do to help our students overcome this? The first step is to start developing a growth mindset in our students.

A growth mindset is the understanding that it is okay to fail, and that learning from our failures is a valuable process. Those with a growth mindset focus on the process, not on the product. They always look for growth and improvement. They face challenges with confidence, and they are not defeated when they fail. In her Ted Talk, Angela Lee Duckwoth discusses how through her research grit was the key identifier in success (link to the video under references). She continues to say that developing a growth mindset is one place to start to develop grit. Our students deserve to be confident, and they deserve the right to not feel penalized each time that they fail.

So where is a good place to start? In the video above, Carol Dweck notes that we should praise students on their process, not on the product. It is important to recognize when students work hard on something, even if they do get it wrong. The other thing that educators can do is utilize the power of “yet.” It’s okay to recognize that you cannot do something with your current skill level, but that does not mean that you will never be able to do it. It just means that you can’t do it yet. Our students need to realize that we develop skills in different mediums at different paces.

The goal is that we shift our target of measuring success. The end product might important, but it is each step and failure along the way that makes the end product so valuable. If our students can learn to value the work they put into something, it will change the way they see success and the way that they see themselves.

If you are ready to start developing a growth mindset in your students, then check out some of these resources:

Edutopia- Resources for teaching a growth mindset 

With Math I Can

Class Dojo Big Ideas video series- Growth Mindset

Praise the Process



Duckworth, A. (2013, April) The Key to Success: Grit. Retrieved from 


He Can, She Can, You Can, and With Math I Can

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Do you dislike challenges? If you make a mistake, do you feel like quitting? Have you ever caught yourself saying that you just aren’t good at something? If so, you may have a fixed mindset. This is something that many of us struggle with, especially when it comes to education (particularly in math.) A fixed mindset stunts intellectual growth and creativity. Fixed mindsets have a very negative effect on today’s youth. A student has a hard time learning if they are afraid to fail.

The good news is that we are not born with a fixed mindset, and with practice we can develop a growth mindset.

Image Retrieved from Carol Dweck on Fixed Mindsets:

The question that you or your students might ask is “How do a start developing a growth mindset?” One great resource to start with is With Math I Can. This resource offered by amazon starts with you and perhaps a group of students taking a pledge to develop a growth mindset. Once you take the pledge, you are added to the list of people who have already taken the pledge. This can be a great accountability measure, as your commitment doesn’t just stay in the classroom. Once you have taken the pledge, this website offers plenty of other resources to get you working towards a growth mindset. You can make it more personal to students in any number of ways. I had my students write what they can do with math on notecards. We then posted our cards around the room.

I will say this much on the topic. Just taking the pledge is not enough. I suggest having students complete activities that give them immediate feedback and allow them to make corrections to their work. Coding and programming exercises work amazingly well for this, because students can see exactly where they made their mistakes, and they actually want to go back and correct them. Hour of Code is a great coding resource for this sort of activity. I have also written more about hour of code, and you can read about it here.

No matter what activity you choose, the central message should be that failure is only a stepping stone to success, and that failure should only be negative if you choose not to learn anything from it. This isn’t the way that modern America views failure, but it is an idea that we should consider adopting. We may not change this view as a whole, but we owe it to our students to at least exhibit this in our classrooms.

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