Category Archives: Connecting Ideas

Growth mindset = effort + new strategies and feedback

What if we press forward in the face of resistance?

For me, the most frustrating moments happen when a learner says to me I already know how do this, and I can’t learn another way.
Me:  Can’t or don’t want to? Can’t yet?

A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve. (Dweck, n. pag.)

What if we offer a pathway for learners to help others learn, and at the same time, learn new strategies?

What if we deem the following as essential to learn?

I can demonstrate flexibility by showing what I know more than one way.

I can construct a viable argument, and I can critique the reasoning of other.

The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn’t help. Reaching does. (Coyle, 19 pag.)

How might we provide pathways to target the struggles to learn new strategies, to construct a viable argument, and to critique the reasoning of others?

MathFlexibility #LL2LU


What if we press forward in the face of resistance and offer our learners who already know how to do this pathways to grow and learn?

How might we lead learners to level up?

Coyle, Daniel (2009-04-16). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. Random House, Inc. Kindle Edition.

Dweck, Carol. “Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’” Education Week. Education Week, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.

Could it be as simple as adding rather than subtracting? (TBT Remix)

I prefer to think of myself as their coach.  “I coach kids to learn algebra” says that I am dedicated to my kids.  “I teach 8th grade algebra” indicates that my dedication may be to the content.  Being their coach does not make me less of an evaluator.  Their athletic coaches evaluate them all the time.  The coach decides which kids make the team and which kids are cut.  The coach decides who starts and who rides the bench.  The coach decides how much playing time, if any, each player has.

There are some things I just have to do as their teacher.  Yes, I mean grading.  (Remember, our grade books are sparse; we have very few grades.  We assess quite often; we grade little.)  We’ve just finished our semester exams.  My team grades together in the same room using the same scoring guide.  Prior to our exam day, we agreed on the questions as well as the solutions, predicted student errors, and completed the exercise of negotiating partial credit.  Some say that is good enough; there is no reason to grade in the same room when everyone understands the scoring guide.  Really?  Would we say that there is no reason to play on the same court or field since everyone knows and agrees upon the plays?  Don’t we expect the other team to have a plan of their own?

Are our learners the opponents in the exam process?
Are we trying to keep them from scoring?
Do they feel that we are? 

Are we still considered their coach?
Are we trying to help them compete?
Do they feel that we are?

How are we thinking about scoring items on the summative assessment?  Do our scoring guides assign points for good work or do they document how we will subtract points for errors?  Are we grading in team?  Do we take our issues to our teammates or our table-leader when we have a question about work that is out of the norm or unexpected?  (Or, is the amount of partial credit awarded based on how nice, sweet, cooperative, participative -or not – a child is? YIKES!)

Could we alter everyone’s mindset about this stressful event by changing our approach and attitude about how we mark, score, and grade each item?  What if we add points for what is done well instead of subtracting points when an error occurs?  Could our scoring guides be more about assigning credit and less about docking points?  What if we chose to add points for bright spots in the work instead of appearing to play “gotcha” by subtracting points?  Would our grades be closer to representing a true score of what has been learned?

How would a learner respond if we handed them a paper that was filled with +4, +2, +3 and so on rather than -2, -4, -3?

Let’s try adding up the good things we find
rather than playing “gotcha”
by subtracting when an error is found.

Could the self-reflection prompts during the exam analysis process, similar to the post-game film analysis, ask the learner to identify why they earned the points that were scored?  Could we get them to write about what they did well?  Could they work in team to identify what others did well that they wish they had done too?  Could they work in team to identify what others did that they find different or unusual and explain why it worked?  Would this process motivate them to improve their understanding and help each other learn?

Would this help us all learn to blend the 4C’s (critical thinking and problem solving; communication, collaboration; and creativity and innovation) with the 3R’s?

Can we use this type of process to add to our learning?  Could it be as simple as adding rather than subtracting?  Are we willing to experiment?

Could it be as simple as adding rather than subtracting? was originally posted on December 23, 2010.

#TEDTalkTuesday: Ideas can spark a movement

How might we uncover passions and connect ideas? What if we listen to learn?

Maya Penn: Meet a young entrepreneur, cartoonist, designer, activist …

Ideas can spark a movement. Ideas are opportunities and innovation. Ideas truly are what make the world go round. If it wasn’t for ideas, we wouldn’t be where we are now with technology, medicine, art, culture, and how we even live our lives.

We live in a big, diverse and beautiful world, and that makes me even more passionate to save it. But it’s never enough to just to get it through your heads about the things that are happening in our world. It takes to get it through your hearts, because when you get it through your heart, that is when movements are sparked. That is when opportunities and innovation are created, and that is why ideas come to life.


#TEDTalkTuesday: believe and change the future

Many teachers try to be comforting and sympathetic about math, telling girls not to worry, that they can do well in other subjects. We now know such messages are extremely damaging. (Boaler, n. pag.)

What if the messages are different? What if we send the message I believe in you? How might we change our future?

Brittany Wenger: Global neural network cloud service for breast cancer detection

Wenger began studying neural networks when she was in the seventh grade. She attributes her interest in science to her 7th grade science teacher.  As a high school senior, she won the grand prize in the 2012 Google Science Fair for her project, “Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer.”

How might we offer opportunities for integrated studies and human-centered problem solving?

What if we send the message I believe in you? How might we change our future?

Boaler, Jo. “Parents’ Beliefs about Math Change Their Children’s Achievement.” Youcubed. Stanford University, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

#TEDTalkTuesday: just imagine what you can do

In whom do you have faith?

Jack Andraka: A promising test for pancreatic cancer … from a teenager

Then reality took hold, and over the course of a month, I got 199 rejections out of those 200 emails. One professor even went through my entire procedure, painstakingly — I’m not really sure where he got all this time — and he went through and said why each and every step was like the worst mistake I could ever make. Clearly, the professors did not have as high of an opinion of my work as I did.

However, there is a silver lining. One professor said, “Maybe I might be able to help you, kid.” So, I went in that direction.

Theories can be shared, and you don’t have to be a professor with multiple degrees to have your ideas valued. It’s a neutral space, where what you look like, age or gender — it doesn’t matter. It’s just your ideas that count. For me, it’s all about looking at the Internet in an entirely new way, to realize that there’s so much more to it than just posting duck-face pictures of yourself online.

You could be changing the world.

So if a 15 year-old who didn’t even know what a pancreas was could find a new way to detect pancreatic cancer — just imagine what you could do.

We gotta have faith.


Listeners: evaluative, interpretive, generative

What type of listener are am I right now? Do I know what modes of listening I use? How might I improve as a listener? What if I actively choose to practice?

Listening informs questioning. Paul Bennett says that one of the keys to being a good questioner is to stop reflexively asking so many thoughtless questions and pay attention— eventually, a truly interesting question may come to mind. (Berger, 98 pag.)

I’ve been studying a paper Gail Burrill (@GailBurrill) shared with us a couple of weekends ago.  The paper, Mathematicians’ Mathematical Thinking for Teaching: Responding to Students’ Conjectures by Estrella Johnson, Sean Larsen, Faith Rutherford of Portland State University, discusses three types of listening: evaluative, interpretive, and generative.

The term evaluative listening is characterized by Davis (1997) as one that “is used to suggest that the primary reason for listening in such mathematical classrooms tends to be rather limited and limiting” (p. 359). When a teacher engages in evaluative listening the goal of the listening is to compare student responses to the “correct” answer that the teacher already has in mind. Furthermore, in this case, the student responses are largely ignored and have “virtually no effect on the pre-specified trajectory of the lesson” (p. 360).

When a teacher engages in interpretive listening, the teacher is no longer “trying simply to assess the correctness of student responses” instead they are “now interested in ‘making sense of the sense they are making’” (Davis, 1997, p. 365). However, while the teacher is now actively trying to understand student contribution, the teacher is unlikely to change the lesson in response.

Finally, generative listening can “generate or transform one’s own mathematical understanding and it can generate a new space of instructional activities” (Yackel et al., 2003, p. 117) and is “intended to reflect the negotiated and participatory nature of listening to students mathematics” (p. 117). So, when a teacher is generatively listening to their students, the student contributions guide the direction of the lesson. Rasmussen’s notion of generative listening draws on Davis’ (1997) description of hermeneutic listening, which is consistent with instruction that is “more a matter of flexible response to ever-changing circumstances than of unyielding progress towards imposed goals” (p. 369).

If you’d like to read about these three types of listening the authors continue their paper with a case study.

Evaluative listeners seek correct answers, and all answers are compared to the one deemed correct from a single point of view.

Interpretive listeners seek sense making.  How are learners processing to produce solutions to tasks? What does the explanation show us about understanding?

Generative listeners seek next steps and questions themselves. In light of what was just heard, what should we do next? And, then they act.

For assessment to function formatively, the results have to be used to adjust teaching and learning; thus a significant aspect of any program will be the ways in which teachers make these adjustments. (William and Black, n. pag)

“Great teachers focus on what the student is saying or doing,” he says, “and are able, by being so focused and by their deep knowledge of the subject matter, to see and recognize the inarticulate stumbling, fumbling effort of the student who’s reaching toward mastery, and then connect to them with a targeted message.” (Coyle, 177 pag.)

What if we empower and embolden learners to ask the questions they need to ask by improving the way we listen and question?

Unless you ask questions, nobody knows what you are thinking or what you want to know.” (Rothstein and Santana, 135 pag.)

How might we practice generative listening to level up in the art of questioning? What is we listen to inform our questioning?

How might we collaborate to learn and grow as listeners and questioners?

Berger, Warren (2014-03-04). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas . BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING. Kindle Edition.

Coyle, Daniel (2009-04-16). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Davis, B. (1997). Listening for difference: An evolving conception of mathematics teaching. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. 28(3). 355–376.

Johnson, E., Larsen, S., Rutherford (2010). Mathematicians’ Mathematicians’ Mathematical Thinking for Teaching: Responding to Students’ Conjectures. Thirteenth Special Interest Group of the Mathematical Association of America on Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education Conference on Research in 
Undergraduate Mathematics Education. Raleigh, NC. Retrieved from on September 12, 2015.

Rothstein, Dan, and Luz Santana. Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education, 2011. Print.

Wiliam, Dylan, and Paul Black. “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment.” The College Cost Disease (2011): n. pag. WEA Education Blog. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

Yackel, E., Stephan, M., Rasmussen, C., Underwood, D. (2003). Didactising: Continuing the work of Leen Streefland. Educational Studies in Mathematics. 54. 101–126.

Intersection of struggle and hope (TBT Remix)

The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn’t help. Reaching does. (Coyle, 19 pag.)

When learners are thrashing around blindly, how might we serve as refuge for support, encouragement, and a push in a new direction? (And, what if one of the learners is me?)

Many days we stand in the intersection of struggle and hope.

We can observe our children carefully and look into their eyes and say, “Can I tell you what a great person you are?” and follow-up with concrete examples of the way they give amazing hugs and how kindly they treat their friends.  This is the stuff of our most important relationships: Aiming to understand and be understood. (Lehman, Christopher, and Kate Roberts)

… some teachers preached and practiced a growth mindset. They focused on the idea that all children could develop their skills, and in their classrooms a weird thing happened. It didn’t matter whether students started the year in the high- or the low-ability group. Both groups ended the year way up high. It’s a powerful experience to see these findings. The group differences had simply disappeared under the guidance of teachers who taught for improvement, for these teachers had found a way to reach their “low-ability” students. (Dweck, Carol)

Move the fulcrum so that all the advantage goes to a negative mindset, and we never rise off the ground. Move the fulcrum to a positive mindset, and the lever’s power is magnified— ready to move everything up. (Achor, Shawn.)

To pursue bright spots is to ask the question “What’s working, and how can we do more of it?” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet, in the real world, this obvious question is almost never asked. Instead, the question we ask is more problem focused: “What’s broken, and how do we fix it?” (Heath, Chip and Dan Heath)

And so the challenge of our future is to say, are we going to connect and amplify positive tribes that want to make things better for all of us?  (Godin, Seth)

Move the fulcrum. Pursue bright spots. Amplify to make things better.

Aim to understand and to be understood.

Intersection of struggle and hope was originally published on December 10, 2014.

Achor, Shawn (2010-09-14). The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work (Kindle Locations 947-948). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Coyle, Daniel (2009-04-16). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. Random House, Inc. Kindle Edition.

Dweck, Carol (2006-02-28). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Kindle Locations 1135-1138). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Heath, Chip; Heath, Dan (2010-02-10). Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (p. 45). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Lehman, Christopher, and Kate Roberts. Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts and Life. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Transcript: Seth Godin – The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating.” On Being. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2014.