Day 1 – Embracing a Growth Mindset for Learning

12 Aug

Another school year has begun, and so I want to report on the first day of class. The report won’t make as much sense without knowing what has been on my summer reading list.

Embedded Formative Assessment – Dylan Wiliam

5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions – Smith & Stein

Mindset – Carol Deck

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

What’s Math Got to Do with It?: Helping Children to Learn to Love Their Most Hated Subject–and Why It’s Important for America – Jo Boaler

Teach Like a Pirate – Dave Burgess

On top of that, I’ve been taking Jo Boaler’s course on How to Learn Math.

After reading what I have read, I knew that somehow the first day of class had to be different this year.

In the 4th session of Jo Boaler’s course, she talks about a framework for a growth mindset task that they developed at Stanford.

Growth Mindset Task Framework

1. Openness

2. Different ways of seeing

3. Multiple entry points

4. Multiple paths / strategies

5. Clear learning goals and opportunities for feedback.

Consider the following task for a geometry student as students are beginning to think about inductive reasoning.

Finish the sequence: 2,3,5,8,12,17,…

A few years ago I changed this task for day 1 of geometry.

Now the directions are to find and explain at least two ways to finish the sequence.




So what is the difference between the two tasks?

I want students to realize from the first day of class that there will often be more than one way to answer tasks, that we are not all going to see the same thing, and that being able to explain our thinking is important. Even if we arrive at the same solution, we might use different paths to get there. I also want students to realize that part of being a good student is being a good listener, so that we can really begin to get at constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others.

I collected student responses to the sequences using TI-Nspire Navigator.


Our discussion encompassed recursive sequences, prime numbers (and composite), the Riemann Hypothesis, RSA Encryption, powers of 2, memory storage for electronic devices, the Fibonacci sequence, and more.

In light of this task, I passed out the CCSS Math Practices Handout that our department made last year and asked my students to reflect on which practices they had already used in class (they suggested make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, reason abstractly and quantitatively, construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others, look for and make use of structure, look for regularity in repeated reasoning).

We talked about using the practices to do math, and I told them that I will want them to reflect on using a practice at least once each quarter using the CCSS MP journal prompts that I had copied on the back of their handout.

Finally, we had a discussion about fixed and growth mindsets. I sent the following poll and asked students with which statements (from the first chapter of Mindset) they agree.


Dweck suggests that those who agree with the first two statements tend towards a fixed mindset regarding their intelligence and those who agree with the last two statements tend towards a growth mindset regarding their intelligence.

One class of students marked the statements as shown below.


I shared some of the research that Dweck cites about growing your brain bigger (creating synapses) when you make and learn from mistakes. I also told my students that I can look back in my own life and see a change from a fixed mindset into a growth mindset. We are certainly not finished having this conversation, but I hope that my students will begin to realize that they can do something to change their intelligence and embrace the work that will require.

So here’s to another school year as the journey continues ….


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16 responses to “Day 1 – Embracing a Growth Mindset for Learning

  1. Mary Bourassa

    August 12, 2013 at 12:20 am

    Thanks for sharing this, Jennifer. My reading list for this summer matches yours and I am also taking Jo Boaler’s course so I will be approaching this school year differently too. I love how you tweaked the task you gave – we must share these ideas so that we all get better at creating that growth mindset. Have a great school year!

    • jwilson828

      August 12, 2013 at 12:31 am

      Thanks, Mary. I will look forward to reading your reflections once you get started. For now, enjoy the rest of your summer!

  2. Travis

    August 12, 2013 at 1:59 am

    I have had lots of fun with
    listed 5-10 times, but covered up.
    “Try this…” then some time later
    “Oops, I meant this…” as I reveal it listed a second time.
    Now repeat. :^)… taking a lap around the room each time.
    They howl in delight.
    I will now add your 4 questions of: fixed — growth [but will make it a continuum rather than discrete.] That will be an engaging meta-discussion.
    Thanks. Both of you share your nuggets this year.

    • jwilson828

      August 12, 2013 at 2:05 am

      That does sound like fun, Travis! Thanks for sharing. Are you taking the Jo Boaler course? If not, you should!

  3. lisabej

    August 12, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    My reading list Boaler’s class & beginning of school ideas matched yours, AND I have a ti-nspire & navigator. Thanks for the ideas. Now I need to make sure my Nav is all set up before the 1st day.

    • jwilson828

      August 12, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      That’s great! Have fun getting everything ready for Day 1!

  4. Joe

    August 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Nice guide! Good luck with your new year 🙂

    • jwilson828

      August 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      Thank you, Joe!

  5. Tammy Hasheider

    March 10, 2014 at 3:29 am

    1st: been reading this blog for all of 15 minutes and am very inspired, so Thank You!
    2nd: I’m a hs math teacher in Missouri and my personal path of growth as an educator has led to the same reading material! I would love to pick your brain on how to grade for growth. I have convinced the majority of our department that formative (or transformative) assessment is indeed good for learning, but we are still generally bad at it. So how do students earn the transcripted grade they get in your class? What is your grading policy, how to you blend learning with practice? Do you ever lecture or give notes? If so, when? Do you use a textbook? Do you flip your classroom?

    Thank you for your time.

  6. jwilson828

    March 10, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Hi, Tammy. Thanks for reading and for asking some good questions to make me reflect further on what I do in the classroom. My next post (Running around a Track III) will talk some about blending learning with practice. I should have it published within the next day or two. Or now that I think about it, maybe I’ll write a whole post on that idea using your last few questions as the outline.

    Let’s start with the formative assessment idea. I’m currently reading Transformative Assessment in Action by Popham. He reminds us of the research by Wiliam and Black that suggest formative assessment shouldn’t be graded. I’ve hears plenty of teachers say that students won’t work unless they are getting a grade, but I wonder if we can change that mindset in students as well by deliberating involving our students in creating a community of learners. I know that the response system technology (I use TI-Nspire Navigator) has contributed to making my students participate more in the community than they were before we had it.

    All of that to say, my students actually do earn Problem Solving Points (PSP) from the formative assessment we do with Navigator during class, but because the points accumulate all quarter & because they earn any additional points needed outside of class by doing research or additional problem solving, the stigma of being afraid to be wrong isn’t there. I talked some about PSP in the following post.

    I think the best action of your team is to take a lesson & determine some formative assessment questions to ask throughout the lesson. Then decide what instructional adjustment you are going to take depending on the results. Then you have one lesson ready to go for next year as well & so the next time you meet, try this with another lesson. You will get better at it by doing it, and you’ll get even better at it by working together to decide what questions to ask and what adjustments to make.

  7. Travis

    May 26, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    • jwilson828

      May 27, 2014 at 8:22 am

      Thanks, Travis.

  8. Alicia Erwin

    August 12, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    What a great first day idea! Hits lots of ideas I’ve been trying to put together in my head. Thanks so much for sharing!


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