Insane idea? Growth mindset memes!

Jo Boaler’s course is like a good book that can’t be put down. I finished session 4 and the last task is to create an activity in which we, “Think of ways to communicate positive messages. Be creative. Don’t just think of things to say.”

I got to thinking about other ways we communicate and I thought of hand gestures–Thumbs up, fist bump, etc.  I found images and threw them into a Google presentation. The idea is for students to talk about what those non verbal messages communicate, then they could create memes. We’ll print out a few for the classroom and students can select their favorite to print out and keep in their binder or glue it on the cover of their math notebook.

If you stumble upon an image that you’d like to add, feel free to do so.

Our school librarian will go nuts over the use of color copier!


Scratch programming help, please

A few years ago I created this Scratch game, Stuck in the Middle,  for the incoming sixth graders. It’s a four level Pacman-like game that introduces the students to our middle school, but it has a few bugs–mostly dealing with the sensor. I find the problem in level 4, but sometimes the students report experiencing it in other levels.

I am NOT a programmer so I’m tossing it out to anyone who is interested in pointing out my mistakes, and/or cleaning up the scripts, and/or posting a remix.

Another idea with the scripts: Do you see a potential lesson or two fit for middle school? When students have found the problem, I’ve suggested they do their own investigation, but they’d rather play than learn how to debug.

I appreciate any feedback you can give me.

stuck in the middle


Math, Mindset, and Attribution Retraining

If you dig the growth mindset and Jo Boaler’s course, this post is for you.  Here are a few activities to get students thinking about their mindset. The ideas are derived from Carol Dweck’s work which is referenced extensively in Jo Boaler’s course How to Learn Math. With more than 20,000 enrolled chances are you are taking the course with me, but I thought it would be helpful to share a few activities on mindset and attribution retraining—a fancy phrase for how to move students from a fixed to growth mindset.

Since 2011, the district I work in has offered a graduate level course called The Skillful Teacher. I’ve taken the class and I’m finding strong similarities between the two courses with respect to mindset and feedback. The Skillful Teacher required extensive “homework” so that’s given me an opportunity to share a few activities that you can use, abuse, or refuse.

By the way, Algebra’s Friend has written a fine overview of Session 1 on Boaler’s course. I would appreciate everyone who’s taking the course to chime in there and here so we can learn even more.

As promised:

Activity #1 Mindset Quiz

Here’s a Mindset Quiz I retyped from this document. It’s a  self assessment that students score themselves.


Activity #2 Fixed vs. growth mindset card sort

The card sort activity introduces students to growth and fixed mindsets. Cut the statements into strips. Mix them up for students to sort into two categories.

growth mindset

Activity #3 Attribution Theory

“The basic principle of attribution theory as it applies to motivation is that a person’s own perceptions or attributions for success or failure determine the amount of effort the person will expend on that activity in the future.”– via 

Using a T-chart, students will brainstorm what makes a successful and unsuccessful student. From the list the teacher will frame the rest of the period doing 4 corners—asking who thinks success is due to effort; who thinks success is due to luck, who thinks success is due to ability, who thinks success is due to how easy or hard the task was.

Assign a Think-Pair-Share activity to create situations where only effort was needed to complete the task, only luck, only ability, only the difficulty of the task at hand. Students share scenarios and agree or disagree using a human continuum.

This handout is a related activity. Note: it doesn’t get into stable or unstable causes of success or failure.


Activity #4 You Can Grow Your Own Intelligence

This brief article from Health and Science News You Can Use can be used for a class discussion on how the brain learns. Here are some comprehension questions as well.

Activity #5 Math Attitude Scale

To be honest I haven’t used this. It is something I stumbled upon a couple of years ago. The intent was to give it to students and score it using Mastery Manager.

Math attitudes

If you have resources to share I would love to hear about them.

I’d like to thank the academy for the Liebster Award!

Thank you Beth, aka Algebra’s Friend, for recognizing me with the Liebster Award! We’ve never met face to face, but we’ve often shared our ideas in cyberspace. I read EVERY ONE of her posts and this summer she hasn’t slept a wink—contributing to Dan Meyer’s weekly Monday Math Makeovers.

If you’re not familiar with the Liebster Award, it’s not really an award; it’s more of a way to express appreciation and gratitude to fellow bloggers who are just getting started or who have fewer than 200 followers. If you accept the “award” the promise is to pay it forward by nominating five other bloggers.

To accept the nomination I must:
1. Link back to the blog that nominated you
2. Nominate 5 blogs with fewer than 200 followers
3. Answer the questions posted by your nominator
4. Share 11 random facts about yourself
5. Create 11 questions for your nominees
6. Contact your nominees and let them know you nominated them

Great teachers are blogging about their experiences and are establishing a niche, creating a unique boutique stocked with engaging lessons, best practices, and teaching dilemmas. They pose questions, offer constructive feedback, and provide words of encouragement. It’s difficult to limit the nominations to five. There are one or two on my list who’ve been around for a while, but since I can’t confirm the 200 follower guideline but I can still nominate them!!!

Here are the blogs I’m nominating:

Here’s what Beth wants to know about me:
1. What is your favorite aspect in teaching? I love lesson design. It’s an opportunity to get those creative juices flowing.

2. How do you re-energize? I love the outdoors. Walking my dog, bike riding in the forest preserves or on my indoor exercise bike brings me pleasure and gets my heart rate up. I’m also an avid movie goer plus I just bought season theater tickets to Broadway in Chicago.

3. What is your favorite day-trip?My husband’s family lives in South Bend, IN and I enjoy spending time with them. A few have different political views so it’s fun debating and learning their perspectives.

4. If you cook, what’s your favorite recipe? If don’t cook, what do you order out most often? I don’t have a favorite recipe, I have a favorite ingredient; it’s ground beef—meatloaf, spaghetti, tacos, burgers. That’s all I make. My favorite carry out is Lou Malnati’s deep dish, sausage pizza. 1-800-Lou-to-go. Yum!

5. What colors do you use in your classroom décor? Hmmm. I use maroon fabric on the bulletin boards. Maroon and white are our school colors.

6. If you could have dinner with a current famous person in our world, who would choose and why? If you consider Diane Ravitch famous, I would want to have dinner with her. She has been a relentless advocate for students and public education.

7. What is your favorite TV show? Two public television programs: Chicago Tonight and PBS Newshour. The local affiliates and network news can’t match public television’s in depth reporting. On a different note, I did catch the first two seasons of The Walking Dead on Netflix!

8. What is your favorite school supply? Pencils. Enough said.

9. What advice would you like to share with the parents of your students? “The focus is on the learning, not on the grade.” I HATE conversations about grades.

10. When you travel do you prefer a tent, a camper, or a hotel room? I used to do a lot of tent camping; now it’s queen or king-sized bed, away from the elevator.

11. What inspired you to blog? With so many great minds out there, I love the feedback. It sounds corny but have a terrific PLC in my building, yet a PLN (personal learning network) is another opportunity to grow as a teacher.

Eleven random facts about me:

  1. In college my nickname was Error Mar. I played Purdue Tennis and made more than my share of unforced errors.
  2. My dad owned a bakery.
  3. The best way to describe my brother is, “No one likes to see him lose because he wins so well!”
  4. Before my parents married my mom was a professional dancer.
  5. I make a chocolate malt to die for.
  6. My two grown children have made my husband and me empty nesters.
  7. My husband is beyond genius in my book.
  8. Mondays are four truck days (mail, trash, recycling, yard waste) so I have to crate my dog Tess.
  9. I love the outdoors.
  10. I prefer non-fiction.
  11. If I had it to do all over again, I still wouldn’t get it right.

Questions for my nominees. Listen up Elizabeth, Jessica, Anna, Crazedmummy, and Gary. We want to know more about you!

  1. What are you most proud of?
  2. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  3. What’s your favorite movie of all-time?
  4. What song or artist is on your favorites play list?
  5. What book is on your nightstand?
  6. What’s next on your professional development list?
  7. What’s your favorite vacation spot?
  8. What’s for dinner tonight?
  9. If you had an extra hour each day how would you use it?
  10. What advice would you like to share with the parents of your students?
  11. What inspired you to blog?

Hattie, Ritter offer help interpreting Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor research

Last week I was racking my brain trying to understand the nuances of such research terms as “statistically significant” and “educationally meaningful” as it relates to Carnegie Learning’s Algebra 1 Cognitive Tutor.

Steve Ritter, one of the founders of Carnegie Learning, and John Hattie, professor and author of Visible Learning, provided worthwhile commentary and helped me navigate the world of research.

Below are their comments.


I’m one of the founders of Carnegie Learning, and I hope I can answer your questions about the study.

Characterizing the effects as “educationally meaningful” or “nearly double the expected gain” follows from a study by Lipsey and others. That study reports that year-over-year gains on standardized math tests are about .22-.25 standard deviations for 8th and 9th grade students (Table 5). Cognitive Tutor students gained about .2 standard deviations relative to the control group (i.e. on top of the “normal” gain of .22-.25), which is where the “nearly double” comes from.

Hattie does talk about the difference between a pre- to post-test effect size and an effect relative to a control group, but it isn’t clear that he accounts for this in his meta-analyses. If you assume that the control group gained .25 standard deviations over the school year, then the Cognitive Tutor group gained .45 standard deviations, relative to pretest (the study used a prealgebra test as the pretest and an algebra test as posttest, so you can’t directly measure gain). So maybe Hattie would agree that this is educationally meaningful.

Part of the point of the Lipsey work is to challenge the notion that effect size is a “common ruler” that can be consistently used across contexts. Hattie might not agree.


This is an intriguing argument  — of course I would want to be careful about using the d> .40 as if it applied willy nilly to everything.  It is tough out there making changes and even changes of d> .20 can be worth striving for.  Yes, double a control group is worth looking at.  I have split many of the effects in VL into those compared to a control group and those that are more pre-post.  Even for the former (control – comparison) a contrast of .40 is average.  So I would not completely agree with the comments above but would note that they (and indeed all in the VL book) are probabilities – so the probability of this program having a worthwhile impact is pretty good –but the true test is your implementation and this is what I would be focusing on – for example you may be implementing this program with greater than .20 effects found in the report (or not) – so I would make this my focus.

The take-aways?

1.) d> .40 is a guide.

2.) An effect of d> .20 can be worth striving for.

3.) Focus on the implementation. Know if you are getting greater or lesser than the effects found in research.

Thanks, gentlemen.

Activities and tasks for the first days of school

Inspired by Algebra’s Friend I’m sharing some first days of school activities. They are not in any particular order. I’m always looking for new ideas so please share what the first days of school look like in your classroom.

Five Day Seat Challenge. This is a perfect opportunity to learn and observe how students interact with each other–who are the leaders, followers. Who overly dominates, who is overly non-compliant? Last summer I shared this article with the Edmodo community and a teacher, whose name I’ve forgotten, took the time to create the 5 PowerPoint slides. The challenge increases in complexity each day as the directions become slightly more complicated.

seat challenge

How it works. Students enter the classroom with instructions displayed on the screen; the teacher simply observes the dynamics. When the last person is seated and raises his/her hand, we talk about what worked well and what were some of the obstacles.

The next one is courtesy of Sam Shah.

This task focuses on constructing a viable argument and critiquing the reasoning of others. Half the class is given either a triangle or rectangle. In total silence they follow about a dozen oral and written directions which are given, alternately, and only once.

triangle directions
I used it last year and some students were spot on while others struggled with their listening skills. Sam’s site includes several debriefing questions.

4 Square is great puzzle that helps students explore how they think and how one is conditioned to think a certain way. I don’t know I where I saw the puzzle initially, but below is a slideshare.

Formative Assessment Lesson. Within that first week of school I’ll want to get some “data” on where students are at in terms of problem solving, misconceptions, and the mathematical practices so the Boomerang lesson


and others from the MARS website–are a great resource not only for first week, but for every day of the year. I mentioned it in a previous post, but Algebra Tales does a better job of providing an overview of the task.

Again, please share your activities.