Tag Archives: student motivation

Nicki the Neuron

NickyAfter I gave a presentation about my use of Neuron Stickers, Brain Surgeon & Wrinkle Sprinkles at Twitter Math Camp 15, Julie Wright (@julierwright) sent me a tweet that directed me to a stuffed Neuron with eyes. So Bitchen!

I took her suggestion and hung it at the front of the classroom as a class mascot, naming it Nicki the Neuron, since Nicki is a name that is gender and ethnic neutral.

Julie Wright Tweet

 

Nicki was  a bigger hit than I expected. One of my students insisted on holding our new mascot during class.

Nicky n Fan

This inspired me. I thought to give Nicki temporarily to the group to which the most recent Neuron Sticker was awarded. I was concerned the boys wouldn’t receive this too well, but Nicki quickly became of badge of honor for the groups.

Nicky n Girl

Nicki is now part of the responsibilities of the Brain Surgeon and is generating a great deal of focus on the Process Reward System that I am implementing. Thank you Julie!

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Neuron Stickers, Brain Surgeons and Wrinkle Sprinkles

Brain-SurgeonI 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:

Neuron Stickers

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.

Brain Pair

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.

neuron color

Neuron Sheet

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.

Brain Color Brain Pic Final

Brain Surgeon

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.

Brain Surgeon Model

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 

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. Wrinkle

 

Neuron Problems & Classroom Norms in Algebra 2

Day 3, Fri Aug 12, 2016

A vs Don-stepmom-shoulderTarget: Recognize that  Voice = Choice when it comes to having a growth mindset as we solve problems about our amazing brains.

Entrance Ticket
I greeted the students at the door, but today I was checking homework. They only had to do one problem of their choosing from the Neuron Facts last night. If they did not have it, they had to quickly do one outside. Message sent: You are doing your homework in this class.

Growth Mindset
On the growth mindset web site they make a point of the “voice = choice,” meaning that we have a choice whether or not to listen to the fixed mindset thoughts that we all have, They give a 4-step breakdown of how to shift from a fixed to a growth mindset. I had fun soliciting the help of a very ancient visual of a devil and an angel on your shoulder.

Voices choices

Neuron Fact Problems
So then came time to practice recognizing the fixed voice and talking to ourselves in the growth voice, while doing challenging math problems. They already sit in groups of four, so I had them spend the rest of the period working through the Neuron Fact Problems, which I created from the Facts on the front side of the paper.  They were to call out any fixed mindset words or actions demonstrated by their partners. They actually did. I worked the room with Neuron stickers and Nicki. I honored about half the groups. I was pleasantly surprised at how well my crew worked.

During the lesson, as I worked the groups, I asked  one student how she got her answer, and she told me that she had copied from her partner. I praised her for her honesty, then paused the class and brought their attention to our classroom norms.

Norms

These were originally shared with us by Dr. Juli Dixon (@thestrokeofluck) in a math training at our district. They became very popular among our teachers. Our new principal has implemented them schoolwide, providing posters for every classroom. I drew the students attention, that we “Share, Don’t Copy.” When we share, one person explains, the other listens, then question follow if we don’t understand or if we disagree. If these three norms are occurring then writing down someone else’s solution is not copying.

After a half hour of solid work, we debriefed where we saw evidence of a fixed mindset and where we saw evidence of a growth mindset. This whole activity was very well received by the students. I gave them advance notice that Monday we will be debriefing their actual solutions to the problems.

Wrinkle Sprinkle

  • Share, Don’t Copy.
  • The equals about 3 lbs.

First Day’s Transformation Question – Geometry

Day 1 & 2, Thurs Aug 13, 2015

Class Pic{My school has a special tradition of activities on the first day in order to promote our school motto: S.P.I.R.I.T., Scholarship, Passion, Involvement, Reflection, Integrity, Teamwork. Teachers do not officially see their new students until Day 2}

Greeting the Crew: I greeted each student at the door with a high-5, inspired by Glenn Waddell (@gwaddellnvhs). All my students who finished the year with me last year, returned, with the addition of 13 new ones. These is a great bunch!

Opening Quiz on the 6 C’s: I always start every year by answering the transformation question: “How will you (the students) be different in June than you are now, because of my class?” This year I am answering that question with the same 6 C’s that I launched last year. My Claims-Based grading system and the students portfolios are structured as such also. These C’s are based on the Smarter Balance Claims and the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning.

  • Concepts & Procedures
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communicating Reasoning
  • Constructioning Models
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration

I gave the students the blank copy of the quiz below, and told them this was not to be graded nor was it a test of their previous knowledge. It was like a movie trailer of things to come, but I still wanted them to give me their best shot. I then gave them my standard 3-response speech.

As a mathematician I cannot always give an accurate response; I cannot always give a complete response; but I can always, always, always give an intelligent response. Blank is not intelligent.

I pressed them to give me something… numbers, equations, drawings … anything intelligent.

Opening Quiz Pic Geom

They worked on these independently, then in groups, then as a class. I wanted to model this process right away, because I use it often.

Last year with this group I fielded the “I feel stupid comment;”  this year it was the, “She is really smart” comment. This gave me the opportunity to once again, press upon them that they are all smart; I’m just here to make them all smartER.

I posted on the board several of the responses that I saw on the student papers. I shared that these are the 6 C’s of the course. That these 6 things are really what they are here to learn. So I didn’t even answer the questions… that will come later in the course. I just wanted to highlight & explain what the first 4 C’s meant, and the other two would be woven throughout. I said that these things are what mathematicians really do, and that I am paid big bucks to get them all thinking like this in 10 months.

Introductions: I have each student briefly state their name and something interesting about themselves. I use the time that they are talking about the point of interest to review the names in the class, so at the end, I can recite all the names in class. Since I already knew most of the kids, this was easy.

I then shared that the reason that we did math first is because that is what we all about.. learning math … not collecting points… and the math was being learned by them, so those are the two most important things going on in the room on any given day. I also assume they can read the grading policy if I gave to them I didn’t have to bore them with it. Since this is the last class of the day, they all thanked me profusely, for that’s much of what they experienced their first day.

The Brain Surgeon: Last year I implemented some ideas that I came up with to promote Carole Dweck’s Growth Mindset findings. One of them was the Brain Surgeon, whose responsibilities are to read the target for the day, and lead the Wrinkle Sprinkle at the end of the period.

Wrinkle Sprinkle: This is another vehicle that I created to promote the Growth Mindset. My students from last year, knew the routine. I explained to the new students that when we learn, we don’t just shove stuff in our brains, but that the brain cells actually grow and connect to each. I joked that it was like getting a new wrinkle on the brain, and that we were into growing our brains in this class. Therefore, at the end of each class, we will debrief what we learned and write it on the board.

  • How to Model a situation with a drawing (From questions #2 & 4 on the quiz)
  • Logan can do a back flip
  • Two people have last names in Spanish that mean a place, and another has a Spanish last name that means cow.

It was a high-spirited, fun first day. The students have me pumped for the year!