“As teachers, we need to free our young people from the crippling idea that they must not fail, that they cannot mess up, that only some students can be good at math, and that success should be easy and not involve effort. We need to introduce students to creative, beautiful mathematics that allows them to ask questions that have not been asked, and to think of ideas that go beyond traditional and imaginary boundaries.”
This quote from a recent blog written by Jo Boaler is about mathematics. As I read it, it struck me that it fits any discipline including how we as teachers and leaders should think about our work. What if we were free of the crippling idea that we must not fail? Then what would we be willing to try? It turns out that our brains grow when we make mistakes. Here is a 1-minute clip from the talk Jo gave at Stanford’s TED event on April 24, 2016, that describes why.
Feedback to Inspire a Growth Mindset
How does this work in project-based learning? Let’s take the disciplines of STEM as an example. The engineering design process accounts for prototyping and refining, the scientific practices include an iterative way for us to ask questions, carry out investigations, and analyze our data, and there is quite a bit of trial and error in technology use and design.
There are opportunities to grow through making mistakes and from not getting the outcomes we wanted or thought we would have. As long as we prepare students for these outcomes and teach them in low-stakes settings that they can reflect on these “failures,” they will be better prepared for life beyond the classroom.
PBL is rooted in inquiry, feedback and revision, peer critique, and checks for understanding along the way, so it is perfectly suited for building a growth mindset in students. Holding up examples of mathematicians that have stuck with a difficult problem can reinforce the importance of persistence. Using examples of scientists who made serendipitous discoveries or engineers whose designs failed multiple times can show students that they are not alone in this messy, real-world pursuit.
However, some students may not be used to failure or find value in the process. It’s not easy to know what to say to a student that is having a hard time with this kind of learning. Here are some Growth Mindset Sentence starters as we prompt students to reflect on their learning in a STEM PBL.