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Growth Mindset: GoBrain and Making a Splash

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A recent interest of mine has been the Growth Mindset.  I have blogged and presented on this topic:

Due to my interests, Carol Reiley contacted me about her initiatives about growth mindsets.  First, from her and her team’s website, GoBrain, is the following:


Second, she wrote a children’s book, Making a Splash, and decided to crowdfund its publication through Kickstarter –

What follows is an interview with Carol about writing and disseminating Making a Splash.

How did you first get interested in the growth mindset?

I’m a PhD student in Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University. My research is studying how medical students learn to become great surgeons. After I read Carol Dweck’s mindset book, a lot of things resonated with me and changed how I viewed people and myself. It’s a topic relevant to everyone and any age.

I wanted to explore more deeply how someone develops a growth mindset or a fixed mindset . . . and what positive or negative external conditions in life affects mindset-whether it was verbal or nonverbal. It can be as small as a single sentence – for instance, calling a child smart after they did well. That response is so commonplace and carries with it great intentions.  However, it can have the opposite reaction than one had hoped. Calling a child smart can cause them have a fixed mindset and be afraid to try new things since they may fail and therefore be called dumb.  I was curious about interactions that were very subtle but very powerful. Being aware of what these interactions makes a huge difference.

More about my research and growth mindset here:

What are your personal connections to this topic?

I grew up in the “trophy” generation where every child got a trophy for anything they did. At that point, a child’s self-esteem and confidence were valued above learning. Now it’s been shown that self-esteem has very little correlation to anything (success, intelligence, alcoholism, etc). People should really focus on the process of doing things and encourage those who are challenging themselves.

I personally approach life with the attitude of wanting to experience as much of it as possible, even if I fail at times. I hope we develop a culture where that’s okay and is encouraged as long as lessons are learned. I find a lot of people holding themselves back from trying things because of what others think and have regrets later in life. I really wanted everyone to let go of that and just do what will help them become the best people they can be.

Why did you write a book for children?

A growth mindset was something I wish I was aware of earlier on. It helped me realize that I should actively strive for opportunities to grow and learn, even if they are a struggle. After I read the book, I wanted to share the concept with everyone I knew.

I wanted to write not just a book for children to see examples of the benefits of having a growth mindset, but also for anyone that interacts with a child (parents, educators, coaches). I noticed that while everyone wants children to have a growth mindset, there were not many resources that explained how you could develop one, how you should praise a child, what to do when a child is frustrated and wants to give up.

 Why did you decide on a Kickstarter fundraiser?

I never planned on being a children’s book author. After having conversations with a variety of people about mindsets, I sat down as a writing exercise and the rough draft of this children’s story came out. After I shared it with friends, I realized I had to write a supplemental guide since there needed to be a link between the science and the stories.

Instead of going the traditional publishing route, I decided to self-publish since the material was so personal to me and I wanted it done right. This included the visuals by selecting the illustrator myself (traditional publishing houses select the illustrator themselves) and the length and content of the book.

Crowdfunding is an interesting new way that enables creators to connect with people who care about your cause. I’m so glad we met our funding goal because it showed that people do care about the growth mindset and want to learn more. If we didn’t meet our goal, I wouldn’t create the book.

How do foresee parents and teachers using this book?

The first step is to bring awareness start a conversation about the mindset. Interest in the growth mindset has increased. That’s a very good thing! I want children and adults to have open discussions during story time and start being aware of their behavior and move towards a more positive learning experience.

What are in your plans as a next step after the book is produced and distributed?

I want there will be more connections between the cool work being done in research and the general public. In particular, I want to focus on helping children develop scientific thinking by asking thoughtful questions and gaining an inquisitive mind. I’d love to see math and science explained in a easy to understand and accessible manner since some people shy away from those subjects since they don’t think they’re naturally good at it. I hope they develop a growth mindset and see it as a chance to learn about exciting new things.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 26, 2014 at 8:10 pm

The Mindset of the Maker Educator: K12 Online Conference Presentation+Slides

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Here is my presentation, The Mindset of the Maker Educator, that I recorded for the K12 Online Conference:

Slidedeck for The Mindset of the Maker Educator:

Here is a direct link to my K12 Online Conference Presentation:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 8, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Experiential Learning: Is there really a question about this?

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The things we have to learn before we do them, we learn by doing them. Aristotle

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results. John Dewey

My training as an educator occurred through experiential education rather than the traditional route.  Experiential Education is based on the following principles as articulated by the Association for Experiential Education:

  • Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
  • Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.
  • Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner2 is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  • Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
  • The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.
  • Relationships are developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others and learner to the world at large.
  • The educator and learner may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
  • Opportunities are nurtured for learners and educators to explore and examine their own values.
  • The educator’s primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
  • The educator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
  • Educators strive to be aware of their biases, judgments and pre-conceptions, and how these influence the learner.
  • The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes and successes. (

I know no other way of teaching.  Knowing the powerful results of experiential education, it confuses me as to why more (if not all) educators don’t teach this way.  In the graphic below, the images in the left column are learners from my own classrooms, the images on the right symbolize more traditional approaches in educational institutions.  As “A picture says a 1000 words,” the expressions of the learners say engagement, interest, joy, and learning.  Which do you want your students, your children to experience at school?


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 26, 2014 at 2:23 pm

How Language Affects Our Teaching Practices

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I had the privilege of hearing two Native American women, Rina Swentzell and Tessie Naranjo, talk about their mission to “save” the Tewa language from extinction.  What was profound about their talk was their discussion of the power that language has to influence how we think and what we do; and that language is culturally determined.

Rina Swentzell posed the following questions during her talk:

  • What is our relationship to words?
  • How does language connect us?
  • How does language become representative of our hearts?


Dr. Swentzell went on to contrast Tewa to the English language.  Tewa language is softer, European languages harsher and harder.  Tewa language focuses on verbs; as a doing-ness.  European language emphasizes noun – the things.  Tewa is inclusive, European languages often are not.  She also discussed how very similar words have different meanings,  For example, the Tewa words for to teach and to learn are closely related to “to breath”.  She also wondered, “How does English affect our thinking and change us?”

Guy Deutscher author of “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages” notes:

When your language routinely obliges you to specify certain types of information, it forces you to be attentive to certain details in the world and to certain aspects of experience that speakers of other languages may not be required to think about all the time. And since such habits of speech are cultivated from the earliest age, it is only natural that they can settle into habits of mind that go beyond language itself, affecting your experiences, perceptions, associations, feelings, memories and orientation in the world.

As an educational reformer, this lead me to give more thought about the language used for educational culture in the United States and how this language affects teaching and learning practices.  Some common educational terminology includes (a sampling):

  • Standards
  • Objectives
  • High Stakes Tests
  • “Class” room
  • Accountability
  • Schedule
  • Benchmarks
  • Mastery
  • Methodology
  • Performance-Based

This words, as analyzed in relation to Dr. Swentzell’s comments, are nouns, do not focus on the doing-ness or actions that can/should be taken by administrators, teachers, and students, are non-nurturing, and do not emphasize relationship.

So maybe, as in line with the language of the Tewa, the discussions surrounding education could/should focus on the verbs, on the doing-ness of administrators, educators, and learners with each other, the content, and the world-at-large. A sampling of action verbs for education include:

  • Teach
  • Learn
  • Think
  • Give
  • Plan
  • Support
  • Experience
  • Engage
  • Inspire
  • Inquire
  • Change
  • Grow
  • Discuss
  • Dissect
  • Affirm
  • Analyze
  • Relate
  • Empathize
  • Connect
  • Create


Such intentional use of language would, as research suggests, change the way we think about and ultimately DO education.

Math teacher, Jason Faulkner , How We Talk About Education Shows What It Means To Us reflects on how his thinking about education affects his teaching practices.

As I reflect on how this narrative is told in my own classroom, Parker Palmer’s words weigh heavily on my heart. As the teacher, one who Palmer calls “the mediator between the knower and the known, the living link in the epistemological chain,” do I not surreptitiously perpetuate an “epistemological error” in my classroom whenever I present knowledge as something to possess or control or master, rather than as a gift to love?

Those serious about educational reform based at putting the learner at the center, need to take a long, critical, dissecting examination at the terminology we use to explain teaching and learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 18, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Maker Education Conference Workshop

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The slide presentation and participant photos from a professional development workshop for educators:


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 11, 2014 at 5:20 pm

The Mindset of the Maker Educator

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Here are some graphics, Thinglinks, and the slideshow I created for my Mindset of the Maker Educator Workshop:

perfect storm




Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 8, 2014 at 12:24 am

How Educators Can Assist Learners in Developing a Growth Mindset

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I have written, described, and presented about the growth mindset in education settings, see

This post delves a little deeper, and hopefully provides some additional ideas for how educators can assist their learners in developing a growth mindset.

Part of facilitating a growth mindset within learners involves changing some preconceptions of the role of teacher.  One such change is in viewing one of the roles as being that of a coach.  As Kirsten Olson discusses in Teacher As Coach: Transforming Teaching With the A Coaching Mindset:

Coaches operate with an underlying assumption that giving advice to others undermines the confidence and self-worth of others.  Others don’t need to be fixed.  In teaching we need to move to exactly this stance in order to foster creativity in our students–to allow our students the choice, control, novelty and challenge that builds their creativity.  Without the assumption that our students are already competent, imaginative, and ready to burst forth with regular exhibitions of novel and valuable ideas and products, we are limiting their creative capacities before they’ve even had a chance to discover them.

The educator, as a growth mindset facilitator and coach, has a different, often unique, set of beliefs about students learning and growth. The following infographic shows (1) the common beliefs of an educator who promotes a growth mindset, and (2) some reflection questions about instructional practices that reinforce the growth mindset:

Growth Mindset_ Educator Edition-2

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 28, 2014 at 2:35 pm


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