Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘growth mindset’

Green horse-s

This is the infamous green horse that I keep around to remind me that I’m not as great as I think I am.

In my last post, I talked about the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig and how he resolves the false dichotomy of classic versus romantic ideals through the concept of quality. He also talks about what he calls the “gumption trap,” which has become all too clear to me working with students for over 28 years. We get into this trap of losing motivation and enthusiasm part way through a difficult project or challenge. This can be because of external setbacks or internal hang-ups. Much has been said recently about the importance of “grit” or “resilience” in students, of teaching them how to persist in the face of challenges and how to stay motivated when they hit the halfway slump.

As an example, my family and I have been watching a reality show that involves teams of two people racing across the country, meeting unknown relatives and solving challenges. I’ve noticed a pattern. Some of the teams have been Millennials who seem to have unusual difficulty with challenges. When they fail a few times, they tend to fall apart and give up trying. Of course, the stress factor is greatly increased by having cameras shoved in your face as you fail. Other teams (often older people) have shown persistence and problem-solving skills when faced by the same challenges and have ultimately succeeded even though their basic knowledge and skills were the same going in. Halfway through the 10-day race, the teams’ enthusiasm starts to slip and they have to start reaching for an inner quality of persistence.

Brain hemispheres-s

Most recent research contradicts the idea that our brain hemispheres are completely different, the left hemisphere good for logic and math, the right good for art and holistic viewpoints. Instead, both hemispheres are used for all types of activities and are not as differentiated.

I am at this point in the book project I am writing and illustrating. I made a great initial effort earlier this year and created twelve illustrations. I ran into some issues with mixing ink that I thought was waterproof (but wasn’t) with watercolors, and that stumped me for a while. Then I hurt my right hand playing racquetball and it is still healing; it hurts to hold writing or drawing pens. These setbacks have led to a slowdown of the entire project. I need to rise above the challenges and get going on the project again. At the very least, I can continue to type the text while my hand heals. I need to get motivated again and get over this midpoint slump.

Persistence and resilience are not easy to teach. We need to begin with developing students’ meta-cognitive problem-solving skills as part of their project-based learning education. For example, how to break a difficult task down into manageable daily chunks. If you’re going to drive from Minnesota to California on a motorcycle, you’d better plan your route, figure out where to stop for rests, meals, and sleep, and plan for the inevitable setbacks of bad weather or breakdowns. A certain mindset of flexibility, mindfulness, and growth are needed. People who are too rigid or who view the world in terms of black and white, success and failure (perfectionism, all or nothing, etc.) will be the most likely to give up part way through a project. Success is not immediate and may take several iterations, and it should be a learning process. It’s not about the destination but the journey.

Diagram-fixed vs growth mindset-s

A diagram comparing the types of thought processes and beliefs in people with fixed versus growth mindsets.

Dealing with Failure: The Growth Mindset

I have a goal to apply for one teacher grant or program each month, partly so that I am always sharpening my resume and collecting new letters of recommendation but also because I always need extra funds for projects. I usually fail; my success rate was at about 35% at one point in 2015 but is now down closer to 25%. I don’t know if this is because I’ve become too successful or too old or have merely entered a more rarified level of competition because I’ve already won the easy stuff. It means on average that I need to apply for at least 8-9 opportunities to get the two successes per year that I desire. I have failed more times than I can count, and some of those failures have meant a great deal of effort and wasted time. I collect rejection letters and put them in a Book of Rejection, not to discourage myself, but to remind me of the cost of my successes. Rejection is simply part of the process of eventual success.

One of the greatest opportunities I’ve had was to be an Educator Facilitator for the NASA Explorer Schools program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. You could only apply once per year, and I was finally selected on my fourth try. Each year I worked to make myself more appealing through volunteer activities and the Solar System Educator Program until I finally reached their criteria for selection (or they got tired of reading my applications).

Green horse on steps-s

I am forced to conclude that no matter how I try to artistically pose the green horse, it is still ugly.

A Green Horse

When I was in middle school I took an art class with a unit on ceramics. I learned how to make different types of pots – a coil pot, a pinch pot, a slab pot. I tried and failed to throw a pot on a potter’s wheel. At the end, I decided to build a sculpture of my grandfather’s horse, which was named Sob (or SOB, which is what my grandfather always called it – only not as an acronym). I tried doing this without actually looking at a photo of a horse. The clay was too wet and slumped a bit in the legs, which were too straight and too thick. The nose looked more like a donkey or some kind of funky mule. Then I tried to find some brown glaze for it and came across an unlabeled pot of a nice reddish-brown color. When it came out of the kiln, the brown glaze had turned to a beautiful translucent green. Talk about a horse of a different color!

A have kept that sorry horse all my life as a reminder that I’m not nearly as great as I think I am. It is a constant reminder to rise above failure. Whenever I get down on myself after many rejections in a row, I look at that horse and say to myself, “I may be a sorry horse of a different color, but I’m still standing just like that green horse. I haven’t been accepted to this program yet, but I probably came close. Maybe next time I’ll do better.”

I have tried for the Einstein Fellowship twice now, and failed both times. But I did make it to the semi-finalist round both times, which meant free trips to Washington D.C. to meet the other semi-finalists (36 of us interviewing for 12 positions). It took a lot of effort to write the essays, get the letters of recommendation, travel to D.C., and do the interviews. And I failed. Twice. Each time we were told to keep our phones with us and they would call us if we were the first choice of the agency, or if we were the second choice and the first choice declined. We had to keep the phone with us for an entire week, but each day the probability of being chosen dropped dramatically and my hope died with it. I tried willing my phone to ring: “Ring, darn you, ring!” Finally, a rejection e-mail was sent to the 24 of us who failed.

Growth mindset self-talk

The types of self-talk carried on by people with growth versus fixed mindsets. My challenge is to provide opportunities for my students to build success and to start changing their self-talk.

But if I look at this with a growth mindset, I see that I made it to a rarified position each time. I was a semi-finalist, one of only 36 out of hundreds who applied. I got a free trip to Washington D.C. and stayed in a hotel just two blocks from the National Air and Space Museum, one of my favorite places. I got the chance to learn more about the Noyce Scholarship program, and I got to meet and talk with 35 amazing teachers. I heard about other programs to apply for from them, and I learned about myself in the process. I did my best, I made it far, and I can always try again.

Some Characteristics of a Growth Mindset

I received an e-mail from another teacher last fall that included a link to an article about the characteristics of a growth mindset. The site included a series of mini-posters that you can print out with various motivational lists, including how to foster creativity, be more optimistic or happy, and reduce stress. I have twelve of them posted in my room now. The site is: https://www.innerdrive.co.uk/resources/

Here is their list of attributes for someone who has a growth mindset:

  1. Effort: Achieving quality on a project takes effort – not infinite effort, but you certainly can’t do a quick or sloppy job and expect quality as a result. Students have to put in the time and thought needed to achieve quality.
  2. Courage: Some students fear success, or have anxiety over ever achieving it. Quality means stretching oneself, and that takes courage and the ability to take risks.
  3. Learning: Quality is a learning process, not a destination or a fixed bar to jump over. It takes time and requires changing one’s mind about things.
  4. Curiosity: You have to have some enthusiasm for the topic to be willing to put in the effort to dig deeply enough to develop a high quality result. If you don’t care, or are apathetic, you won’t achieve quality.
  5. Feedback: Since quality is a process, it requires receiving feedback and frequent formative assessment and re-direction. If you don’t get feedback from reliable experts, you won’t know if you have achieved quality or not. This is why science conferences with poster sessions and concurrent presentations are so important – to receive feedback from knowledgeable peers.
  6. Challenge: Doing something that is easy isn’t going to teach you anything. Projects should stretch students’ abilities, help them develop new skills as well as content knowledge, and be authentic and engaging. I’ve seen high school students do amazingly difficult things, such as presenting a scientific poster at a conference of professional astronomers. If properly engaged, students can achieve quality beyond your wildest expectations.
  7. Persistence: This means resilience in the face of setbacks and failures, grit, being willing to revise and fix problems, and keeping with a project even when you hit that midpoint slump. It means putting in the final 80% to get that 20% of shine on a project.
  8. High Standards: You don’t do students a favor by making the projects too easy or accepting anything less than excellence. As long as they have the opportunity for revisions and the time to do them, you should expect professional quality.

Another poster has five self-talk suggestions to help maintain a growth mindset:

  1. Don’t say, “I can’t do it” because with the proper resources, time, and motivation, everyone can.
  2. The Power of Yet: If you fail, look at it as temporary and part of the road to eventual success by saying, “I didn’t succeed – yet!”
  3. Ask yourself, “What could I have done differently?” Don’t just accept the failure and forget about it. Learn from it. Decide how you could have done it better. But don’t dwell on it overmuch. Resolve to do differently, then try again.
  4. Failing better or failing up: Sometimes setbacks are not really failures but opportunities for course corrections and better eventual success. The Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts was a terrible failure for NASA and almost destroyed the Moon program. Fortunately, instead of giving up, NASA resolved to learn from the accident. They fixed the problems and built a much better Apollo capsule as a result. This redesign probably saved the lives of the Apollo 13 crew.
  5. Try new things: If you fail doing things a certain way, try a different way or approach. If you keep failing at the same task, try a different task. If you continue to do the same thing the same way but expect different results, then you’re not accepting reality (this is a clinical definition of insanity).
Einstein quote

Persistence is a better predictor of success than intelligence.

Out of the Slump

As to my own persistence and resilience, I applied for nine awards or programs this year. One was an award from the Space Club that went to a teacher whom I am familiar with who is much more qualified than I, so I can’t feel badly. Others were outright rejections without explanations other than “We had many qualified teachers apply.” But out of the nine, four were successes. I applied to present at a chemistry teacher’s conference in Naperville, IL and was accepted. I applied to present at the STEM Forum and Expo of NSTA in San Francisco and was accepted. I applied for the EdD program in Innovation and School Reform through the University of Northern Colorado and was accepted. And I applied for a second time for the Teacher Innovator Institute at the National Air and Space Museum, revising my video application, and this time got accepted. I will be flying to Washington, D.C. a week from tomorrow and will be there during the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 landing, and will possibly get to meet some Apollo astronauts and work with museum personnel through a generous grant.

Unfortunately, all four of these opportunities are happening on the same day: July 25th. I had to turn down the presentations in Naperville and San Francisco (I would have had to pay my own way, anyway) and will have to fly directly from Washington, D.C. to Denver to make the mandatory orientation class for my doctorate program, then drive home in a rental car from there.

These successes have come after about 18 months of no success at all, one of the worst slumps of my career that included an unanticipated change in jobs. But I kept trying, even though it was very discouraging. If my career can teach anything, it is that persistence pays off. I try to be open with my students about the programs I am applying for, as well as my successes and failures (or not-yet-successes). I hope they can learn from it, and see that if I can do it, so can they. I may be getting old, but I’ve got some life left in me and a long buckle list of future successes to tackle.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The previous 80 or so posts have focused on global education and my extraordinary adventure teaching and traveling in Indonesia. I wrote those blogs as one document while I was on the exchange program itself, filling in the details when I returned home so that I could post everything in chronological order and keep a coherent story thread throughout.

 I am doing that again with stories and adventures that have happened to me since. And much has happened, but since I don’t really know what the end of the story is yet, I won’t actually post these tales until I have a definite conclusion. I apologize for the gap in posting this will cause, but it will be better thought out this way.

David Black with fall colors

David Black enjoying the fall leaves behind Squaw Peak in late September 2017. Then the floor caved in . . .

Returning to American Academy of Innovation:

I had only two days at home to recover from jet lag before I had to report back to American Academy of Innovation for our teacher preparation and training days for Fall Semester 2017. Our school had grown over the summer, from about 220 students at the end of our first year to over 300 by the start of our second year, with the addition and replacement of a number of teachers. We would be re-working our project structure by separating out projects for middle school versus high school students. The middle school students would be in separate classes by gender. And we were adding to our Dell laptops and chrome books with all new Apple laptops, desktops, and iPads with new software, including the entire Adobe Creative Cloud and Autodesk Maya for 3D. I was extremely excited to hear of this, as it would turn my dreams of an innovative media design program into a reality. Much of what I had wanted to do the previous year was frustrated by inadequate computers and software.

Scott Jones eclipse

Scott Jones, Director of AAI, with students watching the Sept. 21, 2017 solar eclipse.

It took a couple of weeks into the school year to get the software installed and operational, but I then immediately set to work teaching the students Adobe Photoshop in two completely full classes. I wasn’t teaching middle school classes this year, but chemistry, earth systems, astronomy, and two sections of media design. We were planning on a school-wide project to host a digital citizenship conference workshop at AAI, and student teams were preparing demonstrations and sessions for the workshop. I was mentoring a team creating a racing course for UAVs and starting up a robotics club. All was looking good, and our new students were coming along nicely. I even received the long overdue chemistry lab tables that had been on order for almost a year.

Watching the eclipse

AAI students watching the 2017 solar eclipse. Little did I know that my teaching at AAI was about to be eclipsed.

For the solar eclipse on Sept. 21, we had glasses for most students and let the whole school out to watch. At our location in Salt Lake Valley, the eclipse was about 90%, and I got some good photos of it with my camera. A few days later, Shannon McConnell, the director of the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope Project (GAVRT) at JPL, stopped by my classroom and addressed interested students. She had been to Idaho to see the totality and had contacted me to see if I wanted her to stop in my school on her way back to southern California. I said yes, of course. She made a great presentation and we had a good group of students attend. It appeared that the school year was off to a great start.

Solar eclipse 2017

A photo of the solar eclipse. At our location in Salt Lake Valley, we reached about 90% of totality.

Then the floor caved in on me. We had projected having about 380 students for the year to justify the budget, teachers, computers, and other costs we were spending. At the first of October each year, the state of Utah sends auditors into the schools to get an accurate count of average daily attendance for final budgeting purposes. Due to a few families dropping out in September, instead of 380 students, we had 314. Suddenly, our budget had to be cut drastically. They couldn’t send back the new computers, so they decided to balance the budget by laying off teachers and staff and consolidating classes. I was called in on Thursday, Oct. 5 and told I would be one of the ones laid off. It was quite a shock!

Shannon McConnell in my class

Shannon McConnell, director of the GAVRT program at JPL, addressing my class.

Given all that I had done to lead the Project Based Learning program at the school, and all that I was contributing with global education and media design skills training, laying me off did not make sense from a strategic viewpoint. It did, however, make sense from a financial viewpoint – I was one of the most experienced teachers at the school and therefore one of the most expensive to employ. They could save more money getting rid of me than someone else. Since I was teaching higher-level classes, my class sizes were smaller and it would cause less disruption to students than if they laid off someone else. They needed to make a quick financial decision and they made it.

Shannon addressing class

Shannon McConnell talking to my students about NASA opportunities.

The school director agreed to write positive letters of recommendation, including for my application to the Albert Einstein fellowship program in Washington, D.C. which he did that night (as I was still employed for one more day). I had two days to pack up all my stuff and take it home. I didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye to many of my students; they found out on Monday when their classes were changed around and I was already gone.

Drone Races group

My group for the Digital Citizenship summit project. We were planning a UAV drone race event.

Staying Positive:

As with my blog posts about Indonesia, I am trying to stay positive in the stories that I tell and in my attitude toward my life in general. I looked at this as a chance to find something even better, but it was slow coming. I was 57 years old when they laid me off (and yes, there are legal issues about that) so it wasn’t easy finding a new job that would meet my salary requirements in the middle of a school year. I immediately set up accounts with many job search engines, the Department of Workforce Services, Indeed.com, and everywhere else I could think of.

Cameron Brown with drone

Cameron, the leader of the drone race group, with his quadcopter drone. The plan was to build a series of obstacles on our playing field, then have participants race drones through the course. We were well into the planning and building phase when I left AAI.

At first it was nice to have some time off to re-organize my life and my house, write my Indonesia blog posts, and work on some long-term bucket list items. I will write at more length about some of the silver linings my time of unemployment provided, but it was still a difficult time for me. You start questioning your worth, your competence, and your accomplishments when no one seems to care.

In between applying for jobs, I took the opportunity to enjoy the fall season. The colors in the mountains this year were incredible, the best I’d seen in many years. I took my youngest son on a trip up Hobble Creek Canyon to photograph the fall colors. As a whole family, we drove up to Squaw Peak overlooking the whole valley and the colors and view were amazing. I took walks with my wife, and I finally got the summer vacation I hadn’t had because of my trip to Indonesia.

Road to Squaw Peak-fall 2017

The road to Squaw Peak overlook with fall colors.

As the weeks dragged on and turned into months, I started looking at alternatives. My original plan was that this would be my last year of classroom teaching before I fulfilled an Einstein Fellowship or started a PhD program. I looked at starting my own business; I even took a class each Thursday night and got advice from the Small Business Development Center at Utah Valley University. I began to work on various science fact and lesson plan book projects again, and created a detailed plan of how to complete them to bring in some income. I even signed up for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) program to complete 50,000 words of a novel. It would be the first of my Trinum Magicum books, which I have been planning since my time in Philadelphia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation nine years ago. And I did it – I wrote 50,380 words in 30 days. I am about half way through the novel and just getting to the good part.

Provo Temple from Squaw Peak-fall

Utah Valley with a view toward Mt. Nebo from the Squaw Peak overlook: Fall 2017.

One surprising opportunity dropped in my lap in October. I walked onto a musical production of Miracle on 34th Street at the SCERA Playhouse here in Orem and was given four parts. We performed for two weeks in December and there is no way I could have done this if I had continued at AAI.

Goodbye to AAI:

Despite my ultimate success in the job hunt, I still miss American Academy of Innovation. It was (and is) a school with tremendous potential, if they can only get their financial act together. This wasn’t the first time they laid off teachers due to budget problems. Once is a stopgap emergency measure, but twice becomes a habit. Ultimately such a habit will undermine morale and any progress the school hopes to make. I miss many of the students, who were among the best I’ve ever taught. I miss the project-based learning environment and the chance to teach my STEAM it Up, 3D animation, and media design classes. I miss working with the teachers there, but my new colleagues are fantastic too. Some things I don’t miss – the long commute, the high percentage of disrespectful and overly entitled students, and the uncertain budget with its unfulfilled promises.

Fall colors back of Squaw Peak

Fall colors on the back of Squaw Peak.

I am getting almost the same rate of pay, and my commute is one half what it was before and in the opposite direction of traffic. I leave at the same time as before and get home by 3:30 each afternoon when I was just getting out of my last period class at AAI and not getting home until 6:00 or even 7:00. I have my homework all graded by the end of each day, so there is not much take-home work for me now. I have time to work on other projects in the evenings or do fun things with my children. So there are silver linings galore to my being laid off. It was a hard but valuable experience.

Hobble Creek golden trees-2017

Golden cottonwoods in Hobble Creek Canyon

I am a firm believer that when a door closes, one should start looking for windows to open up. They truly have. Onward and upward!

Fall colors on Timp

Fall colors on Mt. Timpanogas: Fall 2017

Hobble Creek-fall 2017

Maples and oaks in Hobble Creek Canyon

Read Full Post »