Monthly Archives: August 2013

Build a life

This week Ashton Kutcher delivered an acceptance speech at the Teen Choice Awards. I wasn’t expecting to find my inspiration here, but I haven’t been able to let go of his three key ideas – particularly the third one. So here it is (paraphrased):

1. Seize opportunities. And opportunities usually look like work – hard work.
2. Be sexy – and there is nothing sexier than being smart, being thoughtful, and being generous. Everything else is crap.
3. Build a life – don’t live a life. Everything around us that we call life was made up by people that are no smarter than us. You can build your own things and you can build your own life.

The third point is the one that strikes me the most at this time, particularly in light of my earlier post here

We don’t have to follow the proscribed path – but it takes most of us a lifetime to wake up and realize this. Ashton Kutcher just completed the biopic on Steve Jobs and he credited that work with reminding him of his third tenet. Steve Jobs himself summed it up very well in his commencement speech at Stanford. He said,

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

Read more about Ashton’s speech on the Business Insider

Watch the complete commencement speech by Steve Jobs via NPR

Creating a growth mindset

This blog is called “Claire is learning” for a good reason.  It is a message that has always been drummed into me – You make your own opportunities; Education is the key to success; You can always learn more.  My parents believed in me, but they also taught me to believe in myself.  When it comes to learning, I believe that I can learn, and I always know there is more to learn.  Which means I am always looking for more things to learn.

So this summer I enrolled in a MOOC through Stanford with Professor Jo Boaler.  It is EDU115, How to Learn Math.  It is designed for both teachers and parents.  I am halfway through it.  It has been great so far! Follow some of the other participants on Twitter with #howtolearnmath

I have decided to post my response to one of the (many) assignments to this blog. The assignment asked us to name one or two things that we would change so that we could incorporate some growth mindset messages into our classrooms. Of course, the ideas behind this are based on the research by Carol Dweck, among others. Read on..

“At the beginning of the school year, I spend many lessons with students establishing and practicing work habits and routines for the classroom.  We have done lessons  on “What does working independently look like?”  “How do I select a station and then sustain my effort at a station?”  I now see that I need to establish and practice some ‘habits’ when it comes to how the students think about learning.

I like the phrase in the Native American School study (Edu115, Week 4) – ‘We spend six hours a day growing our brain’. So a lesson on the ‘exercise program’ that we need to do each day to grow our brain I think would be good:

  1. Our brain is growing every day.  When we learn something new, we grow a new connection in our brain – we increase our internal wiring, we add to our computer hard drive.
  2. When we know the right answer, that’s because on a different day we grew a new connector in our brain and we learned how to do that.  Now you know how to do that in Math,
  3. BUT when you get the right answer you don’t learn anything new.  When we work on a problem that is hard for us, and that we have to think about, that’s when we start to grow our brain.  That’s when we start adding to our computer hard drive.  So when we are making mistakes in class I am going to be super excited – because I can see you starting to learn something new, I can see you beginning to grow your brain.
  4. We have to talk about what we are learning and doing to really grow a strong connection in our brain.  We want that new ‘information highway’ to be ‘superstrong’ and to last.  So we must talk about what we learned and think about the strategies we used, so that our brain can remember how to get there next time.
  • Mistakes = learning something new.
  • Talking about strategies = making our brain ‘superstrong’.

These messages will be conveyed very clearly in a lesson all about how we learn.  They can then be reinforced as we go along.  I always make a poster as we talk and then hang that up – perhaps more as a reminder for me since I teach first grade and they don’t always interact with a lot of print on the walls – but then I can refer to it from time to time.  I have realized in earlier assignments that I will have to spend more class time reflecting on the strategies we use and discussing with the students the work we are doing in class.   I need to schedule this in.

Along with this, an “‘I believe in you and I care about you” lesson would be good.  Why can you do this?  Because I know you ALL can, because I believe in you.  I tend to forget my personal connection to the students after a while – I can be “all business”.  I need to remember that often it is the personal connection with the teacher that motivates a student to do well in class.  I need to use this to help my students do well.

So there are two simple things that I will change.  First, I will add messages about growth mindset to my initial lessons about work habits and ‘how we learn at this school’.  These messages will go on posters as reminders of the messages that should be reinforced with students throughout the year.  Second, I will take a long hard look at how I structure Math class with my first graders.  I need to schedule in regular discussion sessions – and they need to be extended sessions.  At the moment we spend about 10-15 minutes on the carpet talking about Math strategies before we go to independent work and stations.  However, these tend to be times that I use to introduce and practice new concepts and there is little to no time for discussion.  They are more of a teacher presentation/input time.  If I want my students to grow their brains, I am going to have to learn how to let them talk about Math and I am going to have to be comfortable with giving up the time that they need to get better at this.

On a final note, I wanted to highlight some amazing work done by a fellow student of this course, Karl Fisch.  Here is a link to something that he is going to do at the beginning of the year to get the growth mindset across to his students and parents. He is going to send out an email that directs parents and students to this website where they will learn about some of the concepts in EDU115 about fixed and growth mindset:

In conclusion, taking this MOOC this summer has so far been a very rewarding and ‘brain growing’ experience.  I love to learn and I am so happy that I now have these opportunities to explore areas that interest me.  Claire is always learning.