Developing growth mindsets in a maker setting

I see students from 5th grade through 8th grade. Over these four years, students learn:

  • Basic understanding of our brains work
  • Short and long term memory, creativity
  • How mistakes and frustration are good
  • How growth mindsets can help anyone succeed
  • How a fixed mindset can actually prevent a person from success
  • Positive self-talk

All of this makes up our middle school growth mindset curriculum! I hope this post can give you some ideas for themes to hit in your own classroom. 

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Each of these themes is drawn out over the entire year. When each year has its own theme, kids can make the connection to it more deeply than a single lesson. As the teacher who sees these students all the way through middle school, it is also my role to make a coherent progression in creating a productive mindset.

5th Grade:

It is better to teach one thing well than cover a whole chapter quickly. My goal in 5th grade to to have students understand how our brains work. We cover neurons and the many connections between them. We talk about sleep, short and long term memories, and how our brains take up about 20% of our food/air/energy.

After learning these things, we make a unique model of their brain. 

We also celebrate mistakes in 5th grade.The fear of making mistakes often paralyzes students and I cannot blame them. We have trained them to have extreme caution every moment of their lives. Learning that making a mistake is just a step in learning is vital to helping a kid grow up. Mistakes should be celebrated instead of ridiculed.

6th Grade: Growth Mindsets and how frustration is good.

Getting started with growth mindsets is important and the ideas get repeated often. We contrast two students to begin this lesson. First is a student who struggles and immediately quits a math assignment. The other student also struggles but is encouraged to raise their hand, get extra help, and keep trying.  Obviously the second student does better. The real lesson here isn’t so obvious. Student 1’s mindset actually PREVENTS him from being successful.

The other theme for 6th grade is how frustration is good.   What do you do when you get frustrated? Too many people give up right away.

7th grade: A growth mindset activity and how failure is a key part of success.

The next year we continue to look for examples of growth mindsets and positive self talk. We then start to look at how failure is both inevitable and a key part of success. Over time, I’ve built a few great examples that I’ll detail in a future post. It is a simple idea that isn’t obvious to everyone.

I share my own failures with students at this point too!

8th grade: Failing fast and SMART Goals

If a student has taken to heart the ideas from 5th-7th grade, now we can get to some advanced topics. Failing fast is to look for all the things that may go wrong. You are looking for problems that will totally derail you later on. When you find problems, you charge into them. Why waste three weeks on an idea that you could have discarded after three hours?

I started teaching students how to make SMART goals in my first year of teaching. It has always been frustrating and few students actually take it to heart. What most of those students were missing is a growth mindset. Why would a student who thinks that they will struggle forever set SMART goals?

It was thrilling to finally develop this progression. Stretching it over four years gives kids time to internalize the mindsets and recognize their own thoughts. These are small steps spread over four years. If the goal is to develop a growth mindset in students, this is a better way to do it!

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