Monday, September 9, 2013

Loving #EDUC115N- Give the Gift of a Growth Mindset

A friend recommended an online course being hosted by Stanford University on how to learn math. She called it a MOOC. I was skeptical. I have seen the acronym many times before, but never once stopped to decode the meaning. And besides, I am a little insecure about my own math skills. Well, a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. MOOC's are online courses aimed at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. The letters in the acronym are negotiable. (check out the poster below) And since I teach math to elementary level students, I thought this would be a great professional development opportunity for my summer break, as well as an opportunity to improve my own mathematical thinking. It would be a chance to mingle with educators and parents from all over the world in which I could interact with on a subject area most believe you have to be smart to understand.

Well, there are well over three thousand people enrolled. So, interacting is an understatement. It is more like an online PTA (Parent and Teacher Association) meeting. And to think I thought the course would teach me new teaching strategies for math instruction. But, it turns out to be so much more than that. This MOOC is all about how math is vilified as a subject that only a few lucky mathematical inclined individuals succeed in. We are learning how a fixed mindset (mostly likely learned from parents, media, and school) is the reason why many students struggle with math.
A fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset could very well be the difference between a great learner and a struggling learner. Attitude matters. How we cultivate healthy academic attitudes is important.
Well, the post is not about MOOC's but about how this particular course is discussing hw we can cultivate a growth mindset in all our students. First, a fixed mindset is not just what low performing students have. Our high performers can also suffer from a fixed mindset. See, once anyone believes that they are simply born academically challenged or gifted, they might be in danger of a fixed mindset. Neither of the above two groups can handle new challenges that may be difficulty or present failure.
But, a growth mindset, allows for students to embrace change as an opportunity to grow and develop new skills. They are not fearful of the unknown, but curious about the what ifs. They are more open to different ways of thinking. Problem solving is a way of finding solutions, not just an answer to a math problem. Students with a growth mindset are willing to fail in order to learn.
So, what can be done to foster a growth mindset? Glad you asked. Stop making negative statements about your own abilities. Students internalize those statements and make them their own. Now they are full of self doubt and fear failure. Example: My mom says she was never good at math, so I will not be good at math. Now the student does not expect success but failure. Effort in achieving is non-existent. Why try. I was born the way.
On the opposite spectrum, stop telling kids how smart they are, and start praises them for their great effort. When high performers are accustomed to succeeding in many areas of their life and finally face failure or a road block (and we all know they will because life has a way of happening to us all), they do not have the skills to cope and now see themselves as failures. In their minds they have never failed or struggled before, so what is different now. They believe it should come easy for them.

So, you are ready to learn how to foster a growth mindset? You can join this MOOC hosted by Stanford University on OpenEdX called How to Learn Math or visit the Mindset Works website for insight. This is a real way to experience a MOOC and learn more about the research conducted on a growth mindset and it affects student learning outcomes.
So, be cautious of your words and practice a growth mindset in all areas of your life. Be a positive model and others will follow.