Growth Mindset in the Science Classroom

scienceteachermamaBeginning of the school year, Classroom Management, Growth MindsetLeave a Comment


Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

I was first introduced to the idea of a growth mindset by a Ted Talk my principal showed us at a PD.

It was very intriguing.

I did some more research about it and decided that I needed to teach my students about this mindset. I want our classroom to have a positive, risk taking culture and I felt that introducing and encouraging growth mindsets was a way to accomplish that experience. Here’s a short article by the psychologist, Dr. Carol Dweck, who researched the philosophy and her Ted Talk.

To introduce this mindset I used Google images to find graphics that showed the characteristics of a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset. These are some of the images I found useful.

growth vs. fixed mindsetmindset

I copied one to the white board and used the below questions as guides. Every other week I’d use a different image. (This was during the Monday/Friday warm up. So, one week we focus on norms and the next week is the growth mindset.) These were some of the warm-up questions:

  • Read over the characteristics in each column. Which one most describes your mindset? Why?
  • What are advantages of developing a growth mindset? What are disadvantages?
  • What are advantages of developing a fixed mindset? What are disadvantages?
  • (Monday Warm-Up)Pick one characteristic from the fixed mindset that describes you. What strategies can you use to shift that mindset over to a growth mindset? Why would that be helpful?
  • Review the characteristic you chose on Monday. Were you able to shift your mindset? What helped? What got in the way? (Here it is important to celebrate just the fact that a student is noticing his/her thought process. The idea is to help them understand the power of the mind and how they can change their thought process even when they can’t change the situation.)
  • Read this quote:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Explain how these quotes represents a growth  mindset.

Dweck has found that it is possible, although challenging, for people to change from a fixed mindset into a growth mindset. She suggests four steps for moving into a growth mindset.

  1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset voice.
  2. Recognize that you have a choice to change that mindset.
  3. Challenge your fixed mindset with a growth mindset voice.
  4. Take a growth mindset action.

This is the approach I have taken with teaching this philosophy with my students. I show them the link I added about the four steps and we do some role playing.

We discuss the cycle of growth mindset and how that cycle leads to growth no matter where you start. We discussed the cycle of a fixed mindset and how that leads to very little growth or even a downward spiral.

My reluctant learners were most affected by these discussions. So many of them spoke up when they saw the characteristics of “I failed” means “I’m a failure”. Wow, some powerful discussions came up. No wonder they are so reluctant to try their best and risk making mistakes. When you internalize mistakes as a personal flaw, school is a pretty miserable place to be. In fact, when I made that comment out loud, I witnessed lots of head nodding. So many have already labelled themselves as failures that they don’t see the point of even trying anymore. The honest reflections from my students and our discussions, made me realize that I need to explicitly honor risk taking. To explicitly say many times throughout the day, that mistakes don’t make you a failure. It might mean you failed but it is not an attack on their character. So interesting.

Another one that really struck home was how to react to others who we see as successful. Instead of knocking them down, we become inspired by them. If someone in class is doing well, we can ask them what strategies they used to be successful in that task.  Doing this allows all of us to grow and creates a positive learning environment.Win-win. Knocking people down pretty much ensures that none of us will grow and creates a miserable learning environment. Lose-lose.

Even high achieving students can have fixed mindsets which means they’ll peak but remain stagnant because they will avoid anything that seem like a challenge. Or when they are challenged–they won’t know how to deal with it in a way that will allow them to grow.

At the end of the 2nd quarter, I asked my students in each class to nominate a student in the class who has a growth mindset. I instructed them to name the student and add a few sentences of specific examples of how this students exhibits the characteristics of a growth mindset. I tallied up the responses and created a bulletin board honoring the nominated students.

On the bulletin board is a picture of the student and all the responses typed up and displayed under the photo. I included all the students who were nominated and created an awards certificate had a small awards ceremony.



This year I’m beginning the school year with this formal lesson plan.


Stay tuned for my next post on how that lesson plan went.

Growth mindset Pluto quote


Watch this from the Smithsonian Science Education Center:

Good Thinking! – Attack the Knack

Attack the Knack investigates student motivation in science, and explores how the types of feedback students receive can influence self-perception, effort, persistence and learning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *