Welcome Back Sesame Street
My last memories of watching Sesame Street involve me sitting in my friends’ living room silently detesting a show I once loved but now believed was too childish. Big fluffy animals singing silly songs about letters and numbers weren’t cool anymore. I was now eight-years old and the messages being sent abruptly stopped resounding within me.
It’s taken twenty-eight years for me to be reconnected with Sesame Street. YouTube has taken over the world of online videos and finding ways to quietly engage our 21-month old twins has led us to the Sesame Street YouTube Channel. This has led us to creating a playlist of famous musicians rewriting their own songs as“educational." From Usher to One Direction to Elvis Costello, many musicians have performed on Sesame Street. They are cute, educational, and quite catchy. Best of all, my kiddos love ‘em.
One song, however, has deeply reverberated with me, and over the past few weeks I have reflected on its message and connection to teaching and learning. The Power of Yet by Janelle Monae melodically brings up the important message of fostering a growth mindset.
We Often Forget About "Yet"
Mark Hecker, founder of Reach Incorporated, says that we often forget about “yet”. In one of the most powerful TedTalks, he shares how the most disadvantaged have always been judged only by what they have done before and what they cannot do now. Rarely are they ever seen as what they can do or what they haven't done, yet. I began to think about teaching and how often our language focuses on the now rather than the then. How can we shift our language, so rather than saying, “Johnny does not know his 8-times table,” to saying, “Johnny knows his 5-times table and does not yet know his 8-times table?” This minimal shift changes what we are saying to children and parents from what is to what could be.
Carol Dweck, the guru of growth mindset research and Professor at Stanford University, states that “just the words "yet" or "not yet," give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence…[E]very time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time they can get smarter.”
When Do We Forget Yet?
At what age do we stop saying, “….yet”? We always say it about babies as I have recently learned in my conversations with other parents that always end with “….yet”.
“Are they sitting up, yet?
“Have they started crawling, yet?”
“No, they are not talking, yet.”
“Are they eating solid foods, yet?”
“Yes, they are walking, but they’re not running, yet.”
“Are they only taking one nap, yet?”
“Have they stopped breast feeding, yet?”
“No, they are not sleeping through the night, yet.”
When and why do we stop asking and answering using, “yet”? We often hear students saying, "I can't..." How can we teach ourselves and our students to say, "...yet." Dweck believes that we can begin by “praising wisely, not praising intelligence or talent. That has failed. Don't do that anymore. But praising the process that kids engage in: their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, and their improvement. This process praise creates kids who are hardy and resilient.”
Many teachers in Grades 3 and 4 at Munich International School have begun the year focusing on the growth mindset and the power of yet using Jo Boaler's Week of Inspirational Math from Stanford University’s YouCubed Project. Within this week, students learn important growth mindset messages that help them develop confidence, try harder all year, persist with open and difficult problems and embrace mistakes and challenges. "All tasks are low floor and high ceiling – they are accessible to all students and they extend to high levels." This is one amazing example of how we can push our students to recognise the importance of developing a growth mindset. Here is Day 1's video on growth mindset: Day 1 Growth Mindset
I was fortunate to observe several of these lessons and the discussions were extremely powerful. The learning experiences were challenging for all, but the results help set the stage for a year of deep understanding of mathematics. When students begin to think about their understanding of mathematics based on their experiences with it rather than their ability, they recognise that we can all learn not just mathematics, but all subjects. This past week was the beginning of something important. Below are some photos from the week of inspirational math:
Since the beginning of school, I have been a part of many discussions across grade levels about the value and purpose of homework. Using our homework policy as a guide, teams have developed homework that helps consolidate learning, is rooted in inquiry, allows for a degree of choice, and integrates IT in transforming how homework is communicated and completed.
At the end of last school year, I posted about Dan Meyer’s work on how to engage students in inquiry-based mathematics through open-ended problem solving. This past week, the Grade 2 team put this into practice while inquiring into how they can organise numbers by using a big bag of Gummi Bears packets. Following this lesson, they created a video of the lesson and posted it on their blogs to support parents in understanding what is going on in the classroom; allow students to articulate their learning; and create engaging ways to extend learning beyond the classroom.
This led one student bringing in several boxes of Hubba Bubba for the class to explore just as they had with Gummi Bears. Below shows the progression of the lesson they developed using Dan Meyer’s Three Acts of a Mathematical Story:
Act 1: Engage All and Lower Barriers to Entry
They presented the students with a visual that pushed students to question, wonder, and had very few words. It was something that connected to the students and would engage them in mathematical thinking that they might not have thought of before.
Students in Grade 2 were asked to pose questions about this box of Hubba Bubba. Rather than just posing the question yourself, students are able to formulate their own thinking, which also greatly increases engagement.
The teachers then asked students to share their questions and then focused on the question that will help support the standards they are focusing on as a class. “Great. Love these questions. I hope we get to all of them. Here’s one I’ll need your help with first: How many pieces are in the box? Now estimate and give an answer that is too low and an answer that is too high." This allows all students to focus on developing their estimation skills and gives access to all students.
ACT 2: Determine and Overcome Obstacles
Students began to figure out what they need to know and solve the problem. “What information would be useful to know here?" After students have listed all the information they need in order to solve the problem, they document their exploration to answer them.
"How big is a piece of gum?"
"How many pieces are in a pack?"
"How many packs are in the box?"
"How can we easily organize these to count?"
"How else can we group these?"
Students then took time to organise their mathematical thinking on paper.
ACT 3: Resolve Conflict and Extend
The students then were shown the original box, again and discussed and reflected on how they solved the problem. Whose estimates were the closest? How did they figure out their estimation? How did students solve the problem? Are there any other questions that weren't answered?
"Yes, you can each have a pack of gum." :-)
Over the past several years, I have been fascinated by the power of our language on our students. While researching articles on learning through play, I stumbled across this article, Why Does Gender Matter? Counteracting Stereotypes With Young Children. The authors, Olaiya Aina and Petronella Cameron, forced me to think about the language I have used with students and how it affects gender stereotypes. They state, “While unintentional, a teacher’s inherent biases can perpetuate unfair stereotypes and may be manifested in discriminatory classroom practices,” (Aina and Cameron, 13). I began to wonder if my classroom environment was becoming like Toys R Us.
What I’m thinking about…