September 23, 2017

MI Theory and Growth Mindset: Helping Kids Discover their Strengths and Overcome Challenges

Multiple Intelligence Theory and the research on Growth Mindset offer us insight into how the brain works, what it means to be intelligent, and how we respond to the challenges of life. Both frameworks have important implications for teaching and learning, and they’re even more powerful when implemented together. In this post, I’ll explain why I think it’s important to teach students about MI theory and Growth Mindset, and I’ll wrap up by sharing a step-by-step process for teaching your students how to discover their own strengths and use them to develop strategies for overcoming challenges.

Multiple Intelligence Theory
Psychologist Dr. Howard Gardner proposed multiple intelligence theory over 40 years ago in response to the prevailing belief that intelligence was a one-dimensional trait, and that a persons’ IQ was fixed at birth. Dr. Gardner disagreed with this limiting view of intelligence and suggested a multi-dimensional approach. According to Dr. Gardner, “Human cognitive competence is better described in terms of a set of abilities, talents, or mental skills which we call ‘Intelligences.’ These multiple intelligences can be nurtured and strengthened, or ignored and weakened.”

MI theory was welcomed by most educators, especially those who recognized that children learn in different ways and that there that there are many paths to understanding. These teachers had already noticed that children learn best when they engage in activities that take advantage of their strengths, and MI theory made it possible to identify those strengths more easily.

Dr. Gardner identified at least eight types of intelligence, labeling with terms like visual-spatial, musical-rhythmic, mathematical-logical, and verbal-linguistic. Because this terminology was confusing for elementary students, some educators adopted the kid-friendly “smart” labels shown on the right. Click here to download these freebies!

The Impact of Mindset on Success
More recently, Dr. Carol Dweck contributed to our knowledge about learning with her research into the connections between mindset and success. In a nutshell, Dr. Dweck observed that most people respond in one of two ways when facing challenges. Those who display a “growth mindset” enjoy solving problems and trying new experiences, and they choose challenging tasks over easy ones. They don’t view mistakes as failures, but rather as opportunities to learn and grow. On the other hand, people with a “fixed mindset” choose easy tasks over challenging ones, and they don’t enjoy taking risks or attempting to do something they’ve never done before. They view mistakes as failures to be avoided at all costs, and they are easily frustrated when they encounter difficulties. As you might expect, people who approach life with a growth mindset are more successful and happier than those with fixed mindsets.

Fortunately, Dr. Dweck’s research shows that our mindset consists of learned behaviors that can be changed. People who have a fixed mindset can develop a growth mindset if they are willing to change the way they think about themselves and about their capacity to learn.

The Problem with the Word “Smart”
Obviously, we want to foster growth mindsets in our students, which means adopting practices that encourage positive, growth-oriented thinking. Dr. Dweck discovered that some types of praise are harmful and can lead to a fixed mindset, so it's important to use praise effectively. As it turns out, praising children for being smart may cause them to avoid tasks that include a risk of failure because they are afraid of making mistakes.

Dr. Dweck’s findings resulted in an unfortunate backlash against MI theory. Some educators expressed concern about using the kid-friendly "smart" terms that refer to the multiple intelligences as the "8 Kinds of Smart." Surely the practice of teaching kids about all the ways people are smart will lead to our students developing fixed mindsets, right?

Personally, I  don’t see this happening if we’re careful about how we use the word “smart.” There’s a difference between praising kids for being smart and teaching children that people are smart in many ways. Furthermore, the use of the word “smart” should not be a reason to discount MI theory; Dr. Gardner never even used the word “smart” when referring to the multiple intelligences! Those kid-friendly terms were adopted by teachers to simplify the concepts for their students! If teachers aren’t comfortable using the word “smart,” they can easily replace it with one of the other words Dr. Gardner used to describe these intelligences such as, “skills, talents, or abilities.”

Why We Need to Teach MI Theory and Growth Mindset
Learning about growth mindset is important because it helps children understand that our brains can become smarter if we are willing to work hard, try new experiences, and accept challenges. Learning about multiple intelligence theory is important because it empowers students with the knowledge that there are many ways we are smart. Furthermore, by helping students identify their strengths, MI theory gives them the tools to they need to overcome challenges and develop a growth mindset.
How to Teach Kids to Use Their Strengths to Overcome Challenges
When you’re ready to introduce MI theory and Growth Mindset to your students, use this lesson sequence as a guide to help you get started. Be sure to download the freebies mentioned below, including the Getting to Know You Survey, the MI terms mini-posters, and the graphic organizer.

  1. Administer the kid-friendly “Getting to Know You” multiple intelligence survey, but don’t score it immediately or discuss the results with your students. Before you administer the survey, please watch How to Use a Multiple Intelligence Survey to Foster a Growth Mindset. This video explains how to administer the survey, how to score it, and how to explain the results to your students.

  2. Discuss the characteristics of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset with your students. Draw a T-chart with the words “Fixed Mindset” and “Growth Mindset” at the tops of the two columns. Under each column, list and explain belief statements that represent each type of mindset.

  3. Introduce the basics of multiple intelligence theory using Dr. Gardner’s original terminology or the kid-friendly terms. Download these free posters to use as a reference.

  4. Return the Getting to Know You MI Theory Survey to your students and show them how to score it. Discuss the survey results from a growth mindset perspective. Remind students that the results are only based on their answers to a few statements and they’re not permanent. This survey only provides a snapshot of their current strengths and growth areas. Avoid praising students for being “smart” in any of the multiple intelligence areas. Ask students to keep a copy of their survey results in a safe place such as a student portfolio or 3-ring binder.

  5. Teach students how to rely on their strengths to overcome challenges and problems. Growth mindset has been criticized for setting kids up for failure by teaching them that you can succeed at anything if you’re willing to try hard and never give up. I understand this concern, and I agree that trying harder won’t help a child who lacks the skills needed to accomplish a task and who has no idea where to turn for help.

    That’s why it’s important to teach students what to do when they get stuck. One method is to teach them how to brainstorm strategies for overcoming challenges that are based on their MI survey results. The Overcoming Challenges graphic organizer on the right can be used to guide your students through this process. There are two variations of the graphic organizer; chose the one that best meets the needs of your students. Display a copy of the graphic organizer where everyone can see it. At the top of the page, write one challenge or difficulty that many of your student face, for example, “Learning multiplication facts quickly and accurately.” Next, circle one of the multiple intelligences listed at the bottom of the page (for example, "Visual-Spatial)") and write that term in the upper left corner of the chart under “Strengths.” Then ask your students to discuss how someone who is visual-spatial could use that strength to learn the multiplication facts. List those strategies next in the top row under the “Strategies” heading. One strategy would be to draw arrays for the multiplication facts the student is having trouble learning. Another one would be to draw intersecting horizontal and vertical lines for the factors and to count the intersections. After you've guided your students through this process several times, they may be able to complete the graphic organizer on their own or with a partner when facing a challenge.    

Do you see why it's important to implement MI theory and Growth Mindset together? These two frameworks will empower your students and will give them the tools to take ownership of their learning. With the right encouragement and support, your students will begin to believe in themselves and succeed in situations where they might have given up in the past.

I also believe that it’s important to have a full understanding of both concepts to implement them effectively in the classroom. If you’d like to learn more, check out my MI Theory and Mindset Bundle. This resource includes my MI Theory, Mindset, and Motivation professional development webinar and Multiple Intelligence Theory for Kids, a collection of lessons, activities, and printables. You can preview both items and purchase them separately or together in this bundle.

I hope you enjoyed these insights, resources, and strategies for implementing MI theory and Growth Mindset together. This post is just one of over a dozen articles in the Growth Mindset Roundup blog hop. Be sure to click on the links below to check out the other articles from some of your favorite teacher bloggers!

~ Laura Candler
Teaching Resources

September 15, 2017

How to Turn a Word Problem into a Rich Math Task (Part Two)

How to Turn a Word Problem Into a Rich Math Task
Part Two: Crafting the Process

When students struggle in math, it's often due to their beliefs about what it takes to be successful in mathematics. They believe that some people were born with a gift for math, and anyone who wasn't born with that gift will never excel in math.

Fortunately, brain research tells us that this belief is nothing more than a myth, and it's not supported by fact. All students can experience success in math if they are taught in ways that foster the development of a mathematical mindset. This means setting high expectations for all students, engaging them in challenging and interesting math tasks, and providing the right kind of support and encouragement.

One way to foster mathematical mindsets is to replace simple word problems with "rich math tasks." Rich math tasks provide opportunities for students to work together as they explore a concept or solve a problem. In my webinar, Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter, I give examples of rich math tasks and share several strategies for using them with students.

If you're wondering how to get started with rich math tasks, it's easier than you might think. The first step is choosing a suitable math problem, and the second step is guiding your students through the problem-solving process. Both steps are equally important, so I've decided to tackle them in two separate blog posts.

In my first post, Part One: Crafting the Problem, I explained the difference between word problems and rich math tasks, and I shared 6 tips for creating a rich math task from a simple word problem. In this post, Part Two: Crafting the Process, I'll share strategies you can use to actively engage ALL of your students in the problem-solving experience.

September 7, 2017

How to Turn a Word Problem into a Rich Math Task (Part One)

How to Turn a Word Problem into a Rich Math Task
Part One - Crafting the Problem

Growth mindset is much more than a buzzword, and nowhere is this more apparent than in mathematics. Research findings in this field are transforming our perceptions about best practices in math instruction. As it turns out, developing a mathematical mindset is more highly correlated with future success in math than scores on standardized tests!

One way to begin fostering a math mindset in your students is to turn traditional word problems into "rich math tasks."

I tackled the topic of rich math tasks in my recent webinar, Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter, but I want to dig into rich math tasks a bit more here on Corkboard Connections.

Rich math tasks have two critical components, the WHAT (the problem) and the HOW (the process).

In this post, we'll take a look at how to transform a boring word problem into a rich math task. In my next post, I'll share active engagement strategies you can use to help your kids rock the problem solving process! Click here for Part Two.

How a Word Problem Differs from a Rich Math Task

Basic Word Problems
Word problems at the elementary level tend to be simple problems with a single correct answer. Children are often taught to solve them by learning to identify key words and numbers in the problem and then applying the necessary mathematical operation. For example, a basic word problem might read like this: "There are 10 apples, and it takes 2 minutes to peel each apple. How many minutes in all are needed to peel the apples?"
A typical method of solving this problem involves underlining the key words "each" and "in all" and circling the numbers 10 and 2. The key words tell students that they need to multiply the numbers to find the answer, so they multiply 10 and 2 and record the number 20 as the answer. If you ask these students to draw or model the solutions visually, they are at a loss. If you ask them to label the answer with the unit, they are as likely to write "20 apples" as they are to write "20 minutes." 

Word problems don't inspire deep thinking, analysis, or discussion because the solutions are fairly straight forward. Sure, you can encourage your students to talk with a partner about how they solved the problem, but their explanations will sound like this: "First I underlined the key words, and then I circled all the numbers. Next, I multiplied the numbers to get my answer." An explanation like that hardly qualifies as "math talk"!

Rich Math Tasks
Rich math tasks, on the other hand, are usually more open-ended and can be solved in many ways. Some math tasks are inquiry-based questions that have more than one correct answer or problems that require students to use hands-on materials to discover the solutions. Other math tasks look like regular word problems at first glance, but when you attempt to solve them, you realize there are many ways to arrive at the answer. Rich math tasks don't have key words that you can underline, and circling the numbers won't help because you might not even need all the numbers to solve the problem! These types of math tasks stimulate discussion, questioning, and critical thinking as students struggle to choose the best strategy to solve the problem.

6 Tips for Crafting an Awesome Math Task

Finding or creating the right math problem is the first step in developing a rich math task. Here are some tips that will make the process of crafting your problem much easier.

1. Start with a Visual Problem
Select a word problem that's easy to visualize, and try to solve it in several different ways. Make sure the answer can be represented visually by drawing it or by using physical models. If you realize that there's only one way to solve it or that it would be difficult to represent the solutions visually, rewrite the problem or find a new one. I'll use the Apple Peeling Word Problem above to demonstrate how to turn a simple word problem into something much more challenging and interesting.

2. Remove Key Words 
After you've selected a problem, look for key words such as, "in all," "each," "per," and "total." If possible, rewrite the problem without using the key words, making sure that the meaning doesn't change. Removing key words forces students to THINK about which operation is needed instead of just underlining words and mindlessly choosing an operation based on those words.

3. Add Extra Details and Information
Next, add details that aren't really needed to find the solution. If students have been trained to underline key words and circle numbers, these extra details will confuse them. They will have to think about the task and decide which words and numbers are actually important.

Let's use the first 3 tips to rework the Apple Peeling Word Problem and turn it into Apple Peeling Challenge #1. While the problem is still quite easy, the lack of key words and the extra numbers make it a bit more challenging. Students have to think about what is being asked and decide the best way to solve it. This is a good starter problem for introducing students to rich math tasks because it can be solved in more than one way using visual models. Students could draw circles for the apples, use round objects like pennies or bingo chips, or they could even use real apples!

Ready to take Apple Peeling Challenge #1 to another level? Applying the next 3 tips to that problem will make it even more challenging and interesting!   

4.  Personalize It and Make It Real
To make the problem more interesting, personalize it by adding a real person's name, maybe even the name of one of your students! Add enough details to make it come to life or turn it into a story. In Apple Peeling Challenge #2, including the detail that Sam is peeling the apples for a pie makes the problem more meaningful. A teacher in the Math Mindset Connections Facebook group took this problem and turned it into a story about making a pie for Thanksgiving dinner!

5. Turn It into a Multi-step Problem
Rewrite single-step word problems to ensure that multiple steps are needed to solve it. The information in the basic word problem stated that it takes 2 minutes to peel each apple. The easiest way to add another step is to replace that detail with enough information for students to calculate how long it takes to peel each apple. Each problem will be a bit different, but there's always a way to modify the problem and turn it into a multi-step math task.

6. Change the Numbers
You can often make a word problem more challenging by changing the number values. For example, instead of Sam peeling 10 apples, he might need to peel 100 apples because he's baking 10 pies for a banquet. You can also use numbers that result in fractional answers. For example, in Apple Peeling Challenge #2 above, Sam can peel 4 apples in 6 minutes so kids should be able to figure out how long it takes to peel one apple. But 6 is not divisible by 4, so the number of minutes it takes to peel one apple is not a whole number. Do you see how tweaking the numbers a little can instantly make the problem much more challenging? Now you have a problem that's perfect for a math task!

Why not try creating your own Apple Peeling Challenge? In the Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter Webinar, I shared 2 more apple peeling problems that are quite different from the problems in this post. I'll bet you can come up with your own apple peeling problems, too!

Where to Find Editable Word Problems for Rich Math Tasks

If you don't want to craft your own multi-step word problems, or you don't have time to hunt for them, check out my newest product, Math Mindset Challenges. It's a growing collection of editable word problems in several different formats. The problems themselves are in an editable PowerPoint document so you can change the wording and customize them if needed. All of the problems have been field-tested by upper elementary teachers, and they work well as is, but if you use a different measurement system or want to tweak the problems using the tips above, you can easily do that. If you'd like to take a closer look, head over to my TpT store and click on the preview link on the product page.

The Math Mindset Challenges product shown above is included in my Math Mindset Challenges Webinar Bundle and my Math Problem Solving Bundle. Both bundles include the Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter professional development webinar, too.

Next Up - Part Two: Crafting the Process

Remember that rich math tasks have two essential components, the WHAT and the HOW.  In this post, I've tackled the WHAT, the math problem itself.  However, it's not enough to create a great word problem; it's what you do with that problem that counts! Click here to read Part Two, Crafting the Process, where I dove into HOW to facilitate the problem solving experience. I shared loads of active engagement strategies that will take problem solving to a whole new level in your math classroom!