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While most American schools include messages of equity and the belief that all students can develop their abilities, too often these sentiments exist only on paper and fall short of schools' growth-minded goals.
Adrian Mims, a former dean at Brookline High School, noticed an alarming trend in African American students who attempted high level math courses as freshmen at the mostly affluent Boston suburban school; the attrition rate for these students was nearly 100 percent by the time AP Calculus was offered in their senior year.
What Mims began unearthing was a fixed mindset about math among the African American students who began to steadily drop out of high level math courses. In other words, the school's mission statement of equality was just that - a statement without policies or procedures in place to support academic excellence for all.
My team and I worked tirelessly for three days to create an online middle school math lesson that would engage kids and excite them about math. At the end of three days, our lesson would be judged by real live students against lessons created by other teams. When it came time to present our lesson to the kids, we were nervous but excited. We had worked well as a team, really bonded over the past three days, and were proud of what we had created. Ten teams presented their ideas, and they were all fantastic! I felt gratified to work with people who put so much effort into writing creative and engaging online lessons. At the awards ceremony, we were sad to see we hadn't won first place, but still proud of our efforts. We knew we had a lesson that would engage kids in math, and felt we had put our best ideas to good use. Until the next, "surprise" award was announced. You can imagine our shock, dismay, and embarrassment when we heard our group called as winners of "The Worst Idea" award, and were then called to stand in front of our colleagues and accept the award. What an epic failure! How does one recover from such a humiliating setback?
As a high school math teacher, I hear over and over from families that their struggling student has "always" struggled in math and isn't doing well because they themselves didn't do well in math. This information that families share has shown me just how deeply rooted fixed mindsets can be and how people who exhibit a more growth mindset in some areas can hold very fixed mindsets about math. Many families are unknowingly telling teachers that math ability is based purely on genetics and not on the effort and experiences of their students. When working with students with a fixed mindset in math, in particular, I have found some strategies to be helpful in gaining some ground towards a growth mindset.
Ever wonder how having a growth mindset impacts participation in STEM fields such as game design and coding? Zulama game designers met with growth mindset experts in a google hangout to find out.