Tag Archives: growth mindset

Abby’s Corner: Project Based Learning and More

Getting In the Pit: Developing Growth Mindset during our Winter Performance

As we wrap up 2019 at Tapscott, teachers and students are heavily immersed in preparation for our Winter Performance, Maisie’s Journey of Friendship. In past years, we have chosen a story that we could retell. This year, we asked our incredible drama teacher Matt to write a story for us. I want to give a huge shout out to Matt, who worked with many colleagues and helped us find a way to weave our care for the environment, animals, and the climate change issues currently needing attention into the story. This story allowed us to teach students about environmental changemakers, climate change, and changes that should give us hope.

During the two weeks prior to our performance, instead of adhering to our typical class schedule, we employ a project based learning (PBL) focus and have created 90-minute blocks for students to dive deeply into different aspects of this story. They engage in making art, doing research, applying technology skills, and practicing music, dance, and singing – all related to the winter performance story and our PBL learning goals. Every year, we try to build community through a shared learning experience; practice and build upon 21st century learning skills such as collaboration, communication, and creativity; connect the power of story to the learning of people and places (and animals!); and celebrate our learning in a final presentation to our community.

We also want to help students understand that having a growth mindset means sometimes pushing through moments that are “hard” or “challenging” in some way. I have often used this visual below with students, which was shared a few years back with me at a math conference. Being “in the pit” here is seen as a good thing – a moment where your mind is stretched. We encourage kids to share when they feel they are “in the pit” as this is a way those around them can offer support and encouragement to keep learning.

As a school dedicated to deep, meaningful understanding, our hope is that our winter performance is a chance for you as parents to see how the power of a simple story can bring community together while deepening learning and developing skills for students. Please join us at one of the two winter performances this year (please plan to come to only one). This year students also worked across grades to create stop motion films, which will be playing prior to the start of the performance.

  • Thursday, December 19: 1:15 p.m. (stop motion film will begin at 1 p.m.)
  • Friday, December 20: 9 a.m. (stop motion film will begin at 8:45 a.m.)

Resources for Parents

A Quick Read
Kindness Isn’t Enough by current kindergarten parent and former elementary teacher Brett Turner is a fabulous article put out by Teaching Tolerance. What I love about Brett’s article (besides the fact that I know the author!) is the way in which it reminds me of what we value and know to be true at Prospect Sierra. This article absolutely validates why we dive into learning about identity deeply, as we know there is value in not just knowing who you are but also in having an understanding about identity as it relates to inequity, both past and present. Thank you Brett for writing such a powerful message for teachers and parents alike. While kindness is important, it is only with a “culture of justice” that we can expect kids to go out into the world and feel empowered to make needed changes.

We want to support you as you consider technology tool choices and use at home. For many students, regular technology use tends to happen outside of school. Here are some suggestions we often share with parents, and these might be especially helpful over the winter break.

  • Ideally, devices live in public spaces within the home (not bedrooms).
  • There is open discussion between parents and children about what each wants and needs so that agreements and expectations can be made in advance.
  • Your digital footprint must be discussed, as elementary students do not always understand that anything they say or do online lives forever and is connected to them. This must be discussed repeatedly as it is still a developmentally tough concept to grasp for most third and fourth graders (this is the age we are seeing that many students are now engaged in apps that allow them to communicate within a game, for example, text friends, and other online activity that requires more sophisticated communication skills and awareness than most elementary students have).
  • All forms of communication with others via text, chat, email, etc., should be closely monitored by an adult or avoided completely at this age. This means that if they aren’t comfortable with you reading or seeing what they are sending, it probably isn’t a good idea to send.
  • Parents should have passwords and access to all devices and accounts so that you can regularly monitor what is going on.
  • When something comes up that feels like it could be going down the wrong path, it is helpful to reach out to parents of students involved to be sure they know as well. Parents need to work in collaboration so that your children know you are all talking together.

If you want to research more in the area of developmentally appropriate technology use, Common Sense Media is a great tool for parents and teachers. We use this resource often and feel that it is a reliable source in terms of identifying appropriate ages for things such as online games, movies, and much more. They have reviews on current books and movies with age suggestions that are not by reading level but rather by content and include information on language, violence, etc. They have a parent concerns tab that has everything from suggestions by age to articles about very specific questions you might have around technology use.

I hope that you all have a fabulous winter break and I look forward to seeing everyone in 2020 – the start of a new decade together!



Dr. Jo Boaler Opens Minds

The PSPA Authors & Lectures team recently brought Dr. Jo Boaler to campus to talk about maths. We intended to write “maths” because Dr. Boaler, who is British, refers to “math” as “maths.” Further, the “s” on “math” makes the subject expansive and full of possibilities and “expansive” and “full of possibilities” is exactly what we want for our students when they’re engaged in maths. To nurture the idea that maths is full of potential, and most importantly, accessible to all, students need a belief that they can do maths. Dr. Boaler’s talk focused on how to cultivate this type of mathematical mindset.

Growth Mindset

At Prospect Sierra, we’ve been implementing Carol Dweck’s work around growth mindset for many years. Dweck posits that in a growth mindset people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. A growth mindset is integral to Dr. Boaler’s work as well, and underpins the research she does showing the brain’s plasticity and extensive brain growth during hard work and struggle in particular.

Dr. Boaler’s work is pivotal in helping students believe they are capable math problem-solvers. In Dr. Boaler’s work there are no “math people” and “not math people.” She knows that every student will hit a roadblock and struggle, whether they’re told they can do math or not, or whether they’re good at math or not.

The Pit

Speaking of struggle, another powerful strategy from Dr. Boaler’s talk is her idea of “the pit.” The pit is the place of struggle where students are grappling with hard problems to solve. They often want a way out, or want a teacher to carry them over the pit. But in actuality the pit is the place where the brain is growing the most. The more we can help kids get more comfortable with the discomfort of the pit, the more they will grow and learn.

Helping Your Child

So what can parents do to help their child develop this flexible, ever growing math mindset?

  • When you see your child struggling with a math problem you could ask “What are some other strategies you can use?” You could also remind them that “Struggle is good; it means your brain is growing!”
  • Praise hard work rather than attributing success to being smart or gifted. You might say “You tried very hard and you used the right strategy,” or “What a creative way to solve that problem!”
  • When your child has made a mistake or feel like they’ve failed you can remind them that mistakes are an important part of the problem solving process and that they ultimately help improve understanding. Further, to normalize mistake making, you could ask “What mistake did you make that taught you something?” Or, “What did you try hard at today?”

If you’d like to learn more about the growth mindset, there’s lots of great information specifically for parents on this website. And if you’d like to learn more about Dr. Boaler’s math mindsets, click here. Thank you to the PSPA Authors & Lectures committee for bringing us such a thought provoking maths leader!

Introducing…Middle School Matters: Math!

When my eighth grader asks for help with his algebra homework, I smile inside. I love doing algebra! I love doing math, grappling with a problem and sticking with it. That wasn’t always the case.  Growing up, even though I was fairly good at math, it wasn’t fun. It was an individual experience, never collaborative. If I asked the teacher for help, I wasn’t “smart” enough. If I asked a classmate for their strategy in solving a problem, I was cheating. On the contrary, in my home, we have an entire wall painted with whiteboard, and Dylan and I can each work on a math problem and step back to compare our thinking. As an adult, I so enjoy this. Now, I love making mistakes – screwing up a problem royally only for Dylan and I to examine my logic (or lack thereof) and discover where my thinking went awry. He, too, gets the same feedback. I’m inspired to stay with a problem whatever it takes. In this way Dylan watches me be “math resilient” and together we grow that muscle.

I’m delighted to report, I’ve learned math resilience and a growth mindset (failing fast and forward and sticking with it) from Prospect Sierra math teachers. Our math faculty is passionate about math instruction and learning. I’ve observed our math teachers as a parent and principal, and I’ve caught the “math fever” from them! To stay on top of best practices, our Avis math department and Division Heads have been attending conferences, workshops, and regional math meetings, as well as tapping renowned math thinkers to design the best K-8 math program in our region. Just like Tapscott reviewed various elementary programs and chose the Bridges curriculum to suit our K-5 learners, Avis, too, has been actively researching and piloting dynamic math curricula. Our goal? To graduate students who are able and resilient math problem-solvers, who are eager and ready to tackle any problem presented to them…with persistence!

Math education in the U.S. has gone through many transitions over the last half century – from the post-Sputnik era and “new math,” and the “back to basics” movement in the 70s, to the “math wars” of the 80’s and 90’s, followed by the assessment-driven accountability movement of the aughts typified by the infamous (and famously unsuccessful) U.S. policy of No Child Left Behind. These recurring national shifts in math education primarily affect public schools, and during these decades of debate over what math education should look like in the U.S., independent schools, such as our own, have enjoyed the freedom to choose the pedagogy and curriculum that suits their students, mission, and school community. Nonetheless, these phases of math pedagogy are noteworthy and relevant to us because they help us see the historical trends and inform our perspective on what we think math education should look like.

With the creation of the Common Core standards in 2010, math educators finally found themselves with a set of deeply researched, thoughtful, cohesive, and well-written standards. These standards include what content and skills should be taught, and embedded within them are also a consistent emphasis on developing students’ deep conceptual understanding of mathematics. The Common Core standards are a successful blend of procedural skills, problem solving, and deep mathematical understanding, and the philosophical underpinnings of  the Common Core math standards are consistent with what our math teachers at Prospect Sierra have been doing for many years.

Currently Prospect Sierra is aligned with the Common Core math standards in K through 7th grade. It took a few years for high-quality, Common Core-aligned curricula to become available, and as mentioned earlier, in 2015, we adopted the Bridges in Mathematics curriculum for our K-5th grade programs. Our middle school math department is currently conducting a curriculum review for 6th-8th grade, and last year piloted Eureka Math in 6th and 7th grades. This year we are piloting a new curriculum in 6th through 8th grades, Illustrative Math, which offers a balance of deep conceptual understanding with skills-based practice. So far, we are very pleased, and there will be more information to come on how our math pilot program is fairing.

Our math team (all of our math teachers plus Abby and Heather) recently attended the California Mathematics Council (CMC) Conference, where we learned from great math leaders including Jo Boaler who spoke about math best practices and in particular, building math resilience. We also met with Phil Daro, a local math leader and one of the writers of the Common Core. The conversation was incredibly informative and helpful, and we will be carefully considering our options as we continue to seek out the best practices for math instruction and course sequences in the years to come. Stay tuned for more!

Last week Dylan and I were stumped by an algebra problem. What did I do? I came to school and threw it up on the whiteboard in my office. I’d pull in teachers from all disciplines as they passed by office, prompting them to take a stab at the problem and show their thinking. By the end of the day, I had multiple ways to solve the problem (and not without a lot of head scratching mind you). Through multiple methods, I learned more about engaged problem-solving. It was an inspired, fulfilling math experience, and I grew my math resilience muscle. I’m watching your kids’ math resilience muscles grow too!

Here’s to math, enjoying it, and problem-solving for a better world!

Heather Rogers, Middle School Head
Aaron Moorhead, 5th Grade Math & Science Teacher