News from the Western 1 Region
Sandie Gilliam, Western 1 Regional Director
Summer 2017

A Summer Growth Mindset

It’s that time of year again to wrap up the 2016-2017 school year, reflect on the journey we’ve been on with teachers and students, and begin to (1) think about our own summer professional development, (2) start planning for summer school teaching, and/or (3) dream about that upcoming vacation!

Have you read from Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All -Support productive struggle in learning mathematics: "Effective teaching of mathematics consistently provides students, individually and collectively, with opportunities and supports to engage in productive struggle as they grapple with mathematical ideas and relationships" (NCTM, 2014).

Encouraging productive struggle has been ingrained in my practice since reading NCTM’s Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics in 1991. In the book, Standard 6: Promoting Mathematical Dispositions states that the teacher "promotes students’ confidence, flexibility, perseverance, curiosity, and inventiveness in doing mathematics through the use of appropriate tasks and by encouraging students in mathematical discourse." Over the years, what I continued to realize about this standard is that:

  • Non-judgmental verbal cues by the teacher are an important part of students being able to clarify their process to solution and correct any mistakes, rather than the teacher saying, "Here, let me show you."
  • The classroom culture should support students raising questions and challenging ideas generated by other students as well as by the teacher, rather than students feeling afraid or embarrassed to speak up, just in case they are wrong.
  • Students should embrace mistakes as a visible and natural part of the learning process.
  • Ample time given for students to be active participants in engaging tasks both encourages and supports productive struggle.

Two years ago, productive struggle became my concern for students in a Math for Elementary Teachers class I taught at Colorado College. Students came face-to-face with the conceptual understanding of the base-10 system versus their previously learned systematic routine of how one adds, subtracts, multiplies, and divides. Their own frustration looking outside their once comfortable box of knowing math procedures led them to previous memories of "failing math so many times." Somehow, struggle suggests the words: hard, impossible, failure-negative words-and since they already knew how to do arithmetic, they were unclear as to why they must be subjected to struggling.

On the flip side, when teachers initially think of helping students to have a growth mindset, they may mistakenly think this has everything to do with praise for one’s efforts. This was clearly the interpretation my college students had: "I was praised by my teachers and parents for both my effort and my academic achievement"; "My teachers were rewarding outcomes"; and "I had not seen any positive outcomes, and was thus putting in no effort." As a teacher of these pre-service elementary teachers of math, I was trying to model and support productive struggle, and due to memories, they wanted little of it.

Two summers ago, Jo Boaler asked me to teach one of four math classes of middle schoolers at the four-week YouCubed Summer Math Camp at Stanford University. My awesome experiences there provided me with both new ideas and realizations on growth mindset. Last year, I went back to interview some of my students for Jo’s continuing research. What a difference from my college students. These middleschoolers told me: "I know there are many ways to solve math problems"; "I know that mistakes grow your brain"; and "This year, I’m not afraid to speak up in class, even if I’m wrong." Whereas, struggle might suggest negative words, growth mindset for these adolescents was purely positive! Each still has a can-do attitude and a positive mathematical disposition.

Examine your own thoughts on productive struggle and growth mindset. Then read the book, Mathematical Mindsets, by Jo Boaler, to learn more.

In addition to teaching the YouCubed Summer Math Camp, the experiences there provided me with the collegial planning and discussion time that is rarely afforded to teachers in the regular school year, as well as new ideas on growth mindset. This next school year, I plan to share my learnings at conference presentations in the NCSM Western 1 states.

What are your summer plans? Opportunities abound. August brings the TOTAL eclipse of the sun to: Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming (in the West), then on to Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Saw my first eclipse (not total) on paper on the ground when I was an elementary student. Partial eclipses are good, but not great! On to my first total eclipse outside a castle on a hill in Germany. Wow! The birds came home to roost, and the sky turned to twilight. This summer will be my 4th total eclipse! Solar eclipses can be used in integrated lesson plans. Get your cameras ready. The summer NCSM Board Meeting promises to be very productive, but not as WOW as the eclipse!

Perhaps you’re the leader who: 1) wants an unstructured summer of reflecting on your journey with teachers/students, and 2) likes to read about ideas and activities you could put into practice next year? If you want to learn more about productive struggle, go to: Principles to Actions Professional Learning Toolkit. A K-12 grade-band range of tasks in the toolkit helps teachers understand, and be able to use in their classrooms, the Mathematics Teaching Practices (from Principles to Actions). The Case of Jeffrey Ziegler and the S-Pattern Task is a high school example that supports productive struggle. While some tasks in each grade-band or teaching practice are available to everyone, the entire collection is available to NCTM members.

Do you want to both travel and attend an NCSM conference? NCSM’s Summer Leadership Academy in Bangor, Maine is July 24-26, 2017.

Eastern 1 will be hosting this year’s NCSM Summer Leadership Academy, July 24-26 (Monday-Wednesday) in Bangor, Maine. Connie Schrock, the new President of NCSM, will be our keynote speaker. I hope that you can join us for three days of leadership learning!

Registration information is on the NCSM website. For the best rates, early bird registration closes on June 24.
Bring a team!

Maine license plates have "Vacationland" on them for a reason. We are excited to have our summer leadership academy in beautiful Maine. We suggest you take advantage of being in the area, and either come in early or extend your trip to enjoy some of the local attractions. Below are some links that might help you plan some side trips from Bangor. You can rent a car from the Bangor Airport to explore some of the beautiful landscape. Enjoy!

Whatever summer plans you choose, go and recharge your batteries for a productive new school year!