I was inspired at a Growth Mindset workshop by Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck. I knew I was going to be teaching a class of at-risk students, qualified by being on the socio-economic disadvantaged list and having struggled in 8th grade math. Rather than repeating in high school the math course that they failed in middle school, these students would taking Algebra 1 with me. If there is a group of students that need help shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, it is a group of at-risk students who have struggled in math. However, I did not want to just put a bunch of Power Point slides saying how they should believe in themselves.
So, I came up with three vehicles to develop growth mindsets in my students:
Dr. Boaler emphasizes the plasticity of the brain. This means that the brain actual rewires itself when it learns, by forming new or strengthening current connects between brain cells. We also know now that the outer later of the brain thickens as we learn, much like muscles get bigger from exercise. These facts create a contemporary view of the brain that is in direct opposition to the conventional view in education in which the brain is a passive vessel to be filled with knowledge. These two views are best contrasted by the following images of the brain.
The image on the left implies that we are building a brain. I love that idea so much that I enlarged the graphic to poster size and put it up on the classroom wall. I tell my students that is exactly what they are here to do … build their brains. We then publicly discuss the actions that help us build our brains in class, like…
- Sharing mistakes publicly
- Offering unique solutions
- Asking clarifying questions
- Making connections
- Having an “Aha!” moment
- Helping others
To encourage these and other behaviors that contribute to learning, I created Neuron stickers. This was easy, I pulled a drawing of a neuron from the internet and created a sheet that I could print onto a sheet of mailing labels.
Each time a student demonstrated action that promoted learning, the student receives a neuron sticker which they get to place on the Brain Poster. Once the poster is filled, I put up a new one and we continue honoring growth mindset throughout the year.
Each day we designate a “Brain Surgeon,” who serves as a class leader for the day. I purchased this model of the brain to be given to the day’s Brain Surgeon.
The role of the Brain Surgeon comes at the beginning and end of each class.
Opening Class Duties
- Supervise preparation for class (getting materials ready)
- Lead Drum Roll (Class Opener)
- Reading of Instructional Objective
- Placing Nicki The Neuron with the group who had it last during prior lesson
Closing Class Duties
- Supervise clean up and storing of materials
- Return Nicki The Neuron and the Brain
- Lead Wrinkle Sprinkle
Each class concludes with a debrief titled “Wrinkle Sprinkle,” implying that learning adds a new wrinkle to the brain. (Note: Anatomically we know this is not accurate, though we know that the neurons make new connections and the outer layer of the brain thickens.) The brain surgeon calls on students who raise a hand to offer something that they learned that day. These Wrinkle Sprinkles are recorded on the 180Blogs on this site.