Encountering someone with Growth Mindset

I recently listened to a podcast that included a motivational speaker named Eric Thomas as a guest. Mr Thomas embodies Prof Carol Dweck’s framework for a growth mindset. Mr Thomas constantly seeks ways to grow his contributions and value to the world. Also, a key aspect of his job is to motivate and inspire others to reach beyond their perceived limitations and achieve goals greater than imagined.

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CIRLT Spring 2016 Meeting 10: The First Day of Class

How does the saying go, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” What you do in your first class of the quarter sets the tone for the rest of the course. If you want your class to be a welcoming, student-centered, natural, critical learning environment, you need to start at minute 1 of class 1.

Don't let this happen to you! (Image In a knot by Carbon Arc on flickr CC)

Don’t let this happen to you before your first class! (Image In a knot by Carbon Arc on flickr CC)

Some students have chosen to be there. Some are there to fulfill a requirement. Some are “shopping” to see if this course (and instructor) is any good. You need to convince all of them that they made the right choice. At the very least, you shouldn’t do anything that makes them want to not come back.

In our final meeting of the College Classroom on March 31, we’ll talk about some practical things you should (and shouldn’t) do to get your class off to a good start.

Tasks to complete before class

  1. Read this 2-page handout First Day of Class (PDF) written by folks at the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative.
  2. Read this  excellent 2-pager on motivating students to learn (PDF), also written by the CWSEI.
  3. Take a moment to think about this now, before you’re standing at the front of the lecture hall with 300 pairs of eyes staring at you: What do you want your students to call you?  When I used to teach large, undergraduate classes, I chose to let students use my first name.

    You can call me Peter, that’s fine with me, or Dr. Newbury. But not Professor Newbury – “professor” means something specific in University and I don’t have that rank – and not Dr. Peter, that’s been used by someone else. [Dr. Peter Jepson Young (1957 – 1992), a famous AIDS researcher in Vancouver.]

    It’s up to you. The important part is, decide and then tell your students.

  4. Please complete this short survey – it will help me focus the conversation in our meeting.
  5. We’ve spoken often about the importance of creating a safe yet challenging learning community in your class. Please read this excellent blog post about fostering community in the classroom by my colleague, Robert Talbert, a math professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. As Robert admits, it’s a bit “touchy-feely” but, well, people are complicated. Robert writes about “specs grading.” That’s an novel approach to assessment where the instructor defines a series of specifications (“specs”) that students must meet/pass to progress through the course. Students get multiple attempts at each spec. A student’s final grade is a measure of how many specs they met during the course.
  6. There’s a “final project” for everyone who wants to receive a College Classroom Certificate of Completion (and receive the CIRTL Associate level of achievement). This project is required for anyone taking the course for credit. Read all the details on the CIRTL Microteaching page.

Resources from the Meeting

It was interesting to see what you want your students to call you. Many of you, it seemed, would like to use “Dr.” or “Professor” but won’t do that until you’ve earned / acquired that title, and so will go with your first name. Some of you are deliberately choosing to use your first to create a more collegial relationship between you and your students.

Your choice of names you want (and don't want) your students to call you.

Your choice of names you want (and don’t want) your students to call you.

There’s a lot to do in the first class to motivate learning, personal the class for each student, and set expectations. Perhaps you should try to do the items on this list that support all those goals:


Screen capture from our Blackboard Collaborate session. In the limited time with your students, try to do the things that motivate learning, personalize the experience for students, and establish expectations.

Here are notes we used in class:

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Key concepts and the purpose of education

Morén & Aldenmyr (2015) review the content of social studies syllabi used in Swedish upper secondary schools between 1965 and 2011. Specifically, they are interested in the different ways that the concept of “social issues” is used in these syllabi, assuming that these differences are linked to larger social and educational struggles about the meaning and purpose of education, generally, and social studies, in particular. Their study was designed around two questions: 1) how is the “social issues” concept employed in the syllabi and in connection to what other concepts? and 2) what does use of the concept suggest about connection(s) to broader ideas about what education should be?

Their analysis is guided by several discourse theorists who argue that debates over the meanings of central concepts reflect struggles over larger social meanings, and that within the context of education, differences in educational purposes and methods reflect varied connections to these larger struggles and social meanings. The different power relations and concerns reflected in these meanings help reveal the relationship between the way people use language and the material consequences of this language use. The authors argue that all of this is important because the use of “social issues”—and the way it varies across time—reveals different assumptions about the purposes and appropriate content of social studies education (in Sweden).

The authors find “crucial turning points” at which the definition of “social issues” reflects different philosophies about the goal(s) of education. They suggest that the most significant turned occurred in 1988 when a shift away from predetermined content allowed for more progressive approaches to the teaching of social studies. A new emphasis on the abilities students were to develop—rather than on content they were supposed to master—brought increased attention to the “how” of teaching instead of merely the “what”. Acknowledging that texts do not fully guide behavior, they suggest that further research on teacher practices and how they relate to these larger social struggles would be useful.

citation: Morén, G., & Aldenmyr, S. I. (2014). The Struggling Concept of Social Issues in Social Studies: A Discourse Analysis on the Use of a Central Concept in Syllabuses for Social Studies in Swedish Upper Secondary School. JSSE-Journal of Social Science Education, 14(1), 6-18.

http://www.jsse.org/index.php/jsse/article/view/1374 (free download)

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CIRTL 2016 Meeting 9: Transparency

I had a Swatch just like this! (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Transparent Swatch (1985). I had one just like it! (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In the last 8 weeks, we’ve seen again and again that teaching is much more than delivering content. Back in Meeting 1 about how people learn, we saw that educators must pay attention “to what is taught, why it is taught, and what competence or mastery looks like.” (How People Learn, p. 24)

That is, in addition to telling student’s what is important, we need to let them know how to engage and participate and why we are teaching them using these approaches. All of this information improves the transparency of the course. And without transparency, you may find it very difficult to get students to participate in and contribute to the learning environment you’re trying to create.

Tasks to complete before our meeting

Please read “Transparency in Teaching: Faculty Share Data and Improve Students’ Learning” by Mary-Ann Winkelmas. This article should be available without a subscription or your university’s credentials but if you have any difficulty accessing the article, contract Peter.

As you read the article, think about some of the choices you’ll be making when you design a course (breakdown of grades, communication tools, policies, etc. in addition to learning outcomes, assessment, and instructional strategies). Do you even have justification for your choices? Are you willing to share that justification with your students? Try to think of one specific choice where you will be 100% transparent with your students. Try to think of one specific choice where you might not be comfortable explaining everything to your students.

Resources from the Meeting

Great discussions, everyone. It was really interesting to hear about your own experiences and also to see the diverse set of backgrounds you bring to our class.

Here are those PDFs we distributed before class:

Here are the slides we used in our meeting:

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Article Summary: The Role of a School’s Culture

Computing technology careers have failed to attract female workers across the globe—at 10%, the gender disproportion is very obvious. A group of technology experts in Australia believe that lack of exposure to computing technologies at an early age is a key factor in deterring girls to decide to pursue careers in computing. In an attempt to show this, they set up a program called ‘Digital Divas’, which would target all-girl groups in secondary schools and teach them to become competent at technology from an early age. The results seemed to show great success— in exit interviews, 75% of the girls believed they had become proficient at computing technologies at the end of the program and said they would recommend the program to friends. However, only 17% of the girls said they had decided to actually pursue a computing career. This low number was very frustrating for the organizers, so they set out to figure out—what caused this discrepancy in numbers?

The researchers found that the culture of the schools played a huge role in the findings. On one hand, were the more selective schools, which provided more educated and capable teachers. It came as no surprise that the girls at these schools performed very well and felt they were able to master the material covered. However, the life goals of these girls were more aligned with ‘prestige’ careers such as medicine and law. The knowledge they obtained in this program would not steer them away from that goal. On the other hand, there were community schools with a less selective entrance policy and lesser-trained teachers that did not seem to expect much from their students. These students expressed more difficulties in understanding and mastering the material than those in the former case. Those difficulties led to a lack of interest in pursuing careers related to that material.

In conclusion, while exposure in itself does help female students become aware of career paths in computing, the culture within which programs are taught also impact the girls’ desire to pursue these careers. It particularly lies upon the teachers to not make preconceptions about the students, but to draw the students’ previous experiences out and build upon them and help them forge their own career paths.

Reference (I was able to obtain the paper through my university library– unfortunately it is not available for free): Lang, C., Fisher, J., Craig, A., & Forgasz, H. (2015). Outreach programmes to attract girls into computing: how the best laid plans can sometimes fail.    Computer Science Education. doi: 10.1080/08993408.2015.1067008

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