Students Who Want to Learn…Building Academic Mindsets


I HATE all the “bribing” happening in schools. You read and you get a party. You do your homework and you get a party. You complete all your work and you get a party.

How about you GET to read, you WANT to learn by practicing at home, you WANT to complete all your work because you are interested and see value in learning.

Let’s not underestimate kids. Let’s get to know them, help them see the purpose of schooling, the love of learning, the enjoyment in books, and the creativity in math. I know it is hard, but if we always just use tricks and bribes, will we ever get the intrinsic desire to learn that we all need? I know there are some kids that need that extrinsic motivation at first, but I just think it is becoming too much the norm. It is becoming a crutch instead of a scaffold and I think we need to stop. Let’s create thinkers who love learning!

I am determined to break this cycle and help my students develop strong academic mindsets that will help them to have long term success in school and in life. One of the things that we did at the start of the year was to learn about the Global Campaign for Education. We graphed how long it took us to get to school, and then watched the documentary On the Way to School. Later, we compared our time and distances to the 4 stories.

This was a true eye opening experience for my students. We discussed why the children would travel such far distances just to go to school. We also completed all the lessons from Lesson for All Curriculum. It was powerful for my students to learn about the barriers to education and then to think about what people are doing to the lessen those barriers.


I now have students working to figure out how they can support and reduce the barriers for students around the world. Through this work my students were the ones that brought up the topic of attitude and students were saying it is not just about going to school, but it is what you do while you are there. Yes! They said, “Distance is a barrier to get to school, but attitude is a barrier to achieving in school.” Awesome!

They said it and I’m using it. Do you have the right attitude? Are you mentally here and engaged? If not, what can you do to change your attitude?

In addition, we started the year with Jo Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math. Brilliant! We learned about growth mindset, the notion of brain crossing, growing dendrites and how mistakes can cause synapses to fire. (This is also linked to our study of cells and neurons) Students saw that through effort, they can learn and challenges are important. And….they are just loving math!

The Four 4s!

They are seeing the fun and creative side to the subject, engaging in argument, and becoming pattern seekers. Yesterday, while I was reading a book in which the author states that her least favorite subject was math, the class looked at me appalled and in shock. Yes! They are all starting to love math.

Lastly, after reading Zaretta Hammond’s book, Cultural Responsive Teaching and the Brain,

I was determined to do a better job of being more culturally proficient and helping all my students develop strong academic Mindsets and being the “Warm Demander”.

This is from her website and I am on the road to #1, #3 and #5.

I wanted to start the year by building strong relationships with my students. So, I decided to share part of my culture with them and I set up a Fika or a walk (some people talk more when they walk) with each student.

We talked about how they felt about different subjects, what their afternoon schedule is like, and their interests. We then created a special handshake. Yes, I now have 26 handshakes that I have to remember as they all enter the room each morning. I admit it, I don’t always remember them. But, I will get there.

We we are off to a good start.. I see a few kids changing already. It will be hard, but we will do it or die trying. 🙂 Next comes goal setting this week based off of some of the assessments they have taken and creating our learning pacts

I want them to leave my class as learners: inquisitive about the world and motivated to find out the answers to their questions.


Thank Goodness for Math!

It is much easier to say don’t worry about the time, worry about quality. That is until you see how long it takes some 6th graders to cut paper and glue things into a notebook


It is much easier to think of how to engage students in meaningful learning, but then you start the lesson and you realize…you still need to get to know your students more.

It is much easier to envision a remake of the classroom in which students are the ones talking the most, and then all you keep hearing is your own voice.

It hasn’t been a bad start. In fact we have done some amazing things. The students have been great: working hard, responding and trying. It is just…not where I want to be.

But…thank goodness for math!

We did our first visual pattern during our first full week from Lesson 1-3 of our CPM Book.  

Students thought, processed, were encouraged to use color to look for how the pattern was growing and then we shared their ideas.

“I saw boxes. The first shape has 1 box. the 2nd figure has 2 boxes. the 3rd figure has 3 boxes.”

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I saw the pattern growing because they added 1 dot to the middle of the shape and 2 on the top right and 2 on the top left.”

“I saw the pattern growing by adding 5 to each one.”

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“They look like backwards Cs”, said a student after I circle the 5 dots the student had pointed to.

We started seeing Cs and backward Cs. Seeing the 5 dots that were added to the previous figure in different places.

“But the first figure has 8.” said one student.

Then…” I see that there are the same number of boxes as the number of the figure.” says one student.

Yes! Somebody saw the relationship between the figure and dots. Best part, it was a student that doesn’t typically have all the answers.

“Wait, look. The first figure has a C of 5 dots too! Plus 3 extra dots.”

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” Wait, there are the same number of Cs as the number of the figure.”

So then, I helped them write what they said algebraically. So, what is the same in all the figures? I asked

“3 dots”

What do we add to the 3?

“A C”

“5 dots”

“the figure number times 5.”

photo 2-30

Ok, so figure 2 is 3 +  2 times 5. and Figure 3 is 3 + 3 times 5. So what would Figure x be? ” 3 + x times 5″

We test it. Then we write an equation for the first way of seeing the pattern. 5 (x-1) plus the original 8. How can they both be true? We review the distributive property using area models and see that 5(x-1) + 8 is equal to 5x -5 +8 and that is equal to 5x + 3 which is equal to 3 + 5x

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That was our Warm Up! Ok, it took the entire hour. Should I have spent all that time? Did they all understand? I’m sure not. Did a large group of them? Yes. Did they all see a pattern and see some type of growth? Yes! Everyone had success.

Were there things I could have done better? Umm….yes! I hadn’t thought about how I would record everything and the space I needed, soI was writing on 5 different pieces of paper and drawing each figure. Waste of time!!!!

But, thank goodness for week 2! I had my board planned, pre-drew three sets with space underneath each for space to write the equation. I had multiple colors ready and had thought about how I would circle or notate when students shared their strategies. What was the result?


Understanding! Lesson learned…plan your board! Now I just have to teach them what the equal sign means!  Stay tuned for that one!