Free Your Mindset – Part 2

Blog, Classroom / Sunday, August 27th, 2017

In my introductory post titled Free Your Mindset (located here:, I explained that I would be trying something drastically new in the classroom: attempting to implement a full-blown growth mindset mentality in my 7th and 8th grade math classes using Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets as my foundation.

I had never done anything like this before, so I didn’t necessarily have a plan… it was more like an outline:

  1. Get the students excited about math and the idea that mistakes are important and help your brain grow
  2. Have the students brainstorm and create their own Expectations for Collaboration
  3. Practice what it means to be in a truly collaborative group by using some lessons from Jo Boaler’s website
  4. Figure out how to present visuals first and let the students discover the numerical equivalent in their collaborative groups

Welcome Back!

On the first day of school, I knew that many teachers would be going over their classroom routines, class syllabus, and perhaps some ice breakers or team building activities. This isn’t a bad thing – I just knew that my kids would have seven periods of this…

I wanted to be different. 

After I greeted my students at the door, they sat wherever they felt comfortable (I did not create a seating chart), and I gave them the following:

  • A brief presentation on Jo Boaler’s Math Summer Camp at Stanford University.
  • Intro to growth mindset.
  • My thoughts on homework: not going to use it – going to, instead, focus on building strong research and study skills.
  • Busting the myth the mistakes should be avoided.
  • Synapses fire in your brain and that your brain actually grows.
  • Math is a visual wonderland full of puzzles, creativity, conjectures and skeptics.
  • And that anyone can learn math to high levels. There is no such thing as “a math person”.

At the end of my 7th period (the last class of the day) – the class with 36 7th graders, I asked “Does anyone have any questions?” A young lady raised her hand and asked, “How come more teachers can’t be like you?”

It was in that moment that I realized that it didn’t matter how nervous I was about jumping into teaching a class in a totally different way – what mattered is that I was trying something new, the kids knew this, and we were going to travel down this new road together.

For the first two weeks of school, I didn’t focus on specific content. I needed to help the kids experience what it was like to be a participant in a truly collaborative group and atmosphere. I knew the kids were used to a classroom where (most likely) they sat in rows, occasionally in groups, and never really had any time to have deep discussions or self-reflections… but this was quite a challenge in and of itself.

My students were trained (yes, I said it!) over time to come up with an answer quickly and believe that they had completed the entire task. This became very apparent when I had given them twenty minutes to collaborate on a lesson from, and they began talking socially after the first 3-5 minutes. Needless to say, I’ve had whole-class conversations with my students about the importance of following the Expectations for Collaboration that they had brainstormed together. I emphasized that it was important because, in my class, we weren’t going to go over countless worksheets with drills. They were going to learn by discovery, discussion, and determination… this was something they weren’t used to doing.

Next steps…

Like a majority of people that I know, many of my students have a fixed mindset, especially towards math. As they progressed through school, the students experienced math classes that shared a common theme: homework, drills, practicing math facts, timed tests, and front-loading information using only numbers with the hope of including a visual component if time permitted. 

As I continue into Week 3 of school, my next steps are going to be trying to determine how I can increase my classroom management to help students have a deep collaborative discussion. My other challenge is going to be on how to deliver content to students visually before anything else. This, in particular, will be a struggle for me because, for many math topics, I wasn’t shown a visual – I was shown a problem and then a method to solve that problem. I’m feeling confident, though, and I’m very excited to see what happens next on this adventure.

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