The Importance of a Growth Mindset in Math

Growth Mindsets in Math are important for student learning. 

Our youngest students are often very excited about learning math. But then something happens. I believe that  a students diminishing excitement for math is directly related to a lack of a growth mindset.

What is a Growth Mindset? 

A Growth Mindset is a philosophy promoted by Dr. Carol Dweck. With a growth mindset, we each have the ability to achieve success beyond our innate abilities. We also have the option to move forward in the face of adversity, and become successful in our own right.

When it comes to math, there is no such thing as a ‘math person’. This is because a person’s true potential is always unknown, or unknowable. 

But often, in school, we become focussed on getting the ‘correct’ answers, as fast as we can. This leads to students having fixed mindsets about their abilities in math. 

In math, we want students to NOT feel shame that there are deficiencies – this is why we learn! We all have the capacity to learn through our efforts – AND through deliberate practice. 

We also want students to understand that it is the process of learning that is important – not just the final product.

No matter where you are in your learning, you can always develop yourself further. 

 Parents can go a long way to promote Growth Mindsets at home, Here’s How:

  • Avoid assuming that you are, or are not, a ‘math’ person. This can promote a fixed mindset in your child.
  • Have fun with math: Play math games, puzzles, cook and bake together!
  • Avoid praising speed when it comes to math
  • When a child gets an answer incorrect, instead focus on the process (logic), not the final answer (product) – try to find out what went wrong! 
  • Praise your child’s ‘thinking’  rather than telling them how ‘smart’ they are. This helps students to understand that challenge is okay. Thinking that they are ‘smart’ can put pressure on them to think that struggling with math is a bad thing. 

Other Reference:

Makerspaces for All




Over this last year, I have had the opportunity to understand what Education for All, Learning for All, differentiation and equity on deeper levels due to working in a Makerspace.

Learning is about problem solving, creating positive math mindsets, constructing and building knowledge through hands on activities, and most of all, promoting equity. No where is this more true than in a Makerspace.

However, I think that we have very deep issues pertaining to equity in our schools and classrooms. The ways that things are traditionally done simply do not facilitate success for everyone – but this is what education is all about – doing whatever we can to help students be successful.

Makerspaces (or S.T.E.A.M. Rooms – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), are opportunities for new kinds of teaching and learning that promote equity. Based in Constructionism, Makerspaces are designed to give students the ability to build knowledge themselves with hands on tasks. Our students do not have to learn from the teachers experiences and knowledge, they can actively build it themselves.

Working in a Makerspace means that timelines need to be flexible. This fits in beautifully with Growth Mindsets. Students should not have to feel bad because something wasn’t built by the end of the period – this alone does not prove how much a student learned. What matters is the knowledge built from the experience and the process.



Consider this example for a moment:

A class is given a design challenge that brings in many elements of structures in science and math concepts with geometry and spatial reasoning. There are multiple entry points, where students can build as simple, or as complex as they would like. Next:

Student A builds a structure in 5 minutes, whereas Student B struggles with the process for an entire learning block, and does not come close to finishing.

The most important questions become: What was learned? What value did each student get out of the process?

Student A feels great because they built something on time. It came fast, and easy. However, student A did not learn anything.

By contrast: Student B doesn’t finish, feels terrible about not finishing. Frustration levels go high. Self-esteem drops.

Both develop a fixed mindset about learning.

What a travesty it would be if Student B did not have the opportunity to understand why there was struggle with the process? What if this student struggled because they were figuring out a very complex piece of learning for them? What if they were taking the risk to learn, even though the stakes might be high?

Student B did not take the easy route. Student B made mistakes. Student B is experiencing frustration which is what happens in learning. Student B doesn’t realise that they are reinforcing an image of not finishing in time as being a bad thing.

Student A doesn’t feel the need to learn anything new. Student A believes that finishing quickly is a good thing. Student A doesn’t have a teacher who will continue to provide opportunities to take the learning even deeper. Student A’s learning stalls, yet Student A benefits from an image of being a model student.



Can you imagine if people were not allowed to change their plans, make mistakes and start fresh? Or worse, what if we as educators are the ones sending these messages to our students that they cannot?


I always ask my students, What would happen if an engineer did not ever change plans, make mistakes and even start over?

Now, some students need scaffolding with this – they need to understand what an engineer does, and they need to understand that ‘creating’ and ‘making’ follow a process. They need to understand that we design new ideas and structures to help people.

But when they do understand this, it really seems to click with them. They would WANT an engineer who is designing a bridge, for instance, to stop, revise plans, fix mistakes and start over if necessary. This is far more advantageous than quitting after a mistake, or quitting because work needed to extend past a deadline.

Therefore, working in a Makerspace has to mean becoming flexible with timelines and tasks. It has to be about building knowledge in ways that are very new in our school systems.

My experiences in creating a community atmosphere where students have choice and voice, has taught me a great deal about student learning. It has taught me that I do not have to ‘control’ student learning, yet I can facilitate the learning and help students meet their learning goals in many ways.

This has a huge impact on classroom management as well. In fact, the biggest behaviour issues that surface are the ones directly related to problem solving skills, and from having fixed mindsets. Not from students feeling bored, ‘dumb’, or disconnected from learning.

The fact is, that providing students with different ways of doing things, and providing students with opportunities to learn differently and share their voices in different ways produces greater focus, growth mindsets, and student-centered knowledge building opportunities. In my humble experience, this demonstrates that all students can be successful with opportunities to learn in different ways. It promotes equity.

This takes differentiation and Education for All to a whole new level. We are not differentiating so that students can do what WE want them to do all the time. We are differentiating for them – so that the students can build knowledge in ways that are personally meaningful to them. While still meeting the learning goals. While still learning about the Big Ideas.

What does this look like? 

  • We are facilitating, asking questions, promoting student inquiry.
  • We are starting with the Big Ideas.
  • We are setting key learning goals.
  • We are clustering the specific expectations around them – from many different subjects.
  • We are allowing students to design, plan, construct, and then allowing them to write about it, reflect, problem solve, engage in visual-spatial reasoning. All skills that are proven to increase reading scores and help students to become literate learners.

In addition to problem solving, promoting positive math mindsets, and having the opportunity to build knowledge and understanding in new ways, I believe that Makerspaces have the powerful opportunity to begin to promote equity for students in our school systems.


Deborah McCallum


The Big Ideas in Education and STEAM


How do we plan for STEAM?

We start with the Big Ideas.


Attached is a chart I created to link the Big Ideas in Education with S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). Big Ideas in Education STEAM

This chart is specifically geared toward the Ministry of Ontario curricula that address STEAM subjects, and specifically for Grade 3. However many of the Big Ideas remain the same across grades.

I also included overall expectations where there were no explicit big ideas already mapped out– just to get the picture.

The next step after this chart, is to first ask ourselves what other specific variables might come into play. We don’t need to have them all mapped out first however. Some specific expectations arise when student inquiries take us there.

Next, we need to think about the teaching strategies we will use. Our choices will depend on our students interests, inquiries and needs. They will also depend on social justice variables including equity, access, and privilege.

Finally, we will consider what tools will best support us.

Things to think about:

  • How does this relate to Growth Mindsets?
  • How can we harness strategies that help us understand what students are thinking, vs helping get the ‘right’ answer?
  • Can we be flexible enough to allow students to share their thinking in many different ways without being judgmental?
  • How can we help students document their own learning and engage in ongoing reflection?
  • How will our strategies help us to create a #feedbackfriendly classroom?


If you choose just 1 Big Idea, this does not mean that you are stuck only teaching that one subject. Remember that when you cluster the specific expectations around the Big Idea, they can be from any subject. However, you can also choose 1 or more Big Ideas to make explicit links to different subjects from the start. It is my belief that we cannot plan ahead for all specific expectations that will be met. If we did then this is treating education as a knowledge repository where students come to get the information from the teacher about the specific expectations. When we know the curriculum, we can allow for flexibility and let student inquiries, learning needs, interests and more guide us to the specific expectations that can be taught with various strategies and tools that best helps our students to achieve. All the while, still ensuring that we are covering the curriculum. It also allows for innovation, collaboration, and connections to real life.

Check out the attachment here. It always helps me to see the Big Ideas in one place.

Big Ideas in Education STEAM D


Deborah McCallum

c 2016

5 Steps for Planning the Big Ideas in Education – with Pokemon Go

Big Ideas in Education

Big Ideas in Education

Always start with the Big Ideas in education when you plan your days, weeks, units, and years. 

Avoid starting with Pokemon Go.

When you start with the technology, you risk gaps in learning – lest your practice become about the tool and not the curriculum for student achievement.

Does this mean not to use Technologies like PokemonGo ? Absolutely not. 

In fact, there many new resources and ideas being shared for using Pokemon Go with our students. (By the way, if you are interested, here is a link to ones that I have curated so far:

Curated Pokemon Resources
We know you have wonderful ideas for integrating Pokemon Go into your classrooms and learning environments. And you should have a curriculum that is flexible enough to follow student needs, interests and inquiries.

Planning lessons and units is hard work. There are a plethora of variables that educators need to keep in mind when planning. 

It can feel very overwhelming when we are met with new fad or trend that we feel like we need to integrate. 

We shouldn’t feel this way, and we don’t have to, because we always come back to the Big Ideas. Within the Big Ideas we remain flexible, and attuned with our students.

In other words, we are not planning for Pokemon Go – we are planning for the Big Ideas and our students. Our planning can include Pokemon Go, but only as it connects with the Big Ideas, and the learning needs, inquiries, interests of our students. We are helping students to achieve according to the curriculum. Not the technology. 

The Big Ideas lead to inquiries and problems that need to be solved. But let’s be clear,

Pokemon Go is neither a ‘Big Idea’ for learning, neither is it the ‘Problem’ that we need to solve.

Pokemon Go it is a tool. A resource. And like all tools and resources, there will be pros and cons that impact student learning.

Pokemon Go is definitely a trend. But can we still use it to support the Big Ideas? Absolutely. Particularly if we are always planning with several key steps in mind that I will outline below. 

It can be very useful for student learning for many reasons. It can support the curriculum, it can harness skills and technologies that modern learners need. Technologies absolutely have a place in our schools and with students – provided we are always attending to equity, access and issues of social justice with students.

However, Pokemon Go is not THE curriculum. It is not THE Big Idea. It is not THE inquiry. It is not THE problem that will need to be solved. Nor is it THE expectation or Learning Goal that will need to be met.

Rather, it is just an amazing new tool that can be harnessed to support the Big Ideas, inquiries, learning goals. It is a tool to support the kind of problem solving that is happening in our learning environments. For instance, it can be harnessed to support the Big Ideas, problems and inquiries surrounding mapping skills, visual-spatial literacy, graphing, measurement, vocabulary and much much more.

The following are 5 Basic Steps to help educators keep the Big Ideas in mind

  1. Find the Big Idea that will flexibly guide your learning over the course of a lesson or unit.
  2. Next, cluster all of the specific expectations around this idea from across the curriculum. This does not necessarily have to be planned ahead. When we are knowledgeable about the curriculum and our students, and the different types of technologies that exist, then we can ‘go with the flow’, and see what specific expectations end up being met based on student inquiries and problem solving.
  3. Create and follow new inquiries with the students as they happen.
  4. Identify the problems that need to be solved within the Inquiries. Always start with the problems.
  5. Finally, decide what tech tools will meet that need.

Within each Big Idea, lies a new world of wicked problems and amazing new inquiries that really open up how our students think and reason. When new inquiries take shape, we begin to see the problems that need to be solved. Educators can work to harness the inquiries and harness the problem solving process with students as they relate to the Big Ideas.

Always stick to the Big Ideas first. Find your Big idea, cluster your expectations around it from across the curriculum.

Next, identify the ‘problem’ connected with your Big Idea. Once you know what that is, then you can decide what technology tool to use.

Always keep in mind: Pokemon Go is neither a Big Idea for learning, neither is it the problem that we need to solve. It is a tech tool that can help us solve various problems and connect with the Big Ideas that we have identified for student learning.


Deborah McCallum

c 2016

Feedback Matrix for Instructional Design

The art and science of giving feedback is complex. What may appear to be quite easy to give, while at the same time quite difficult to fit in a busy schedule- is actually a complex process that we need to involve learners in.

The following is a Feedback Matrix that I created to help educators consider the variables that go in to feedback processes with learners. These considerations will facilitate the design of your learning environment with learning tasks built on a strong foundation of using the #feedbackfriendly classroom as a pedagogy.

The variables considered are:

  • Teacher Variables
  • Student Variables
  • Subject
  • Context or Place
  • Learning Goals
  • Tasks to Reach Goals
  • Achievement

The Feedback Matrix by Deborah McCallum


This framework supports the idea that we can design our learning environments for Feedback Friendly Pedgagogies that are inclusive, collaborative, and support modern learners.

Please consider the chart as a guide for creating your own Feedback Friendly classroom

Deborah McCallum



Deborah McCallum

c 2016

Question Matrix for Instructional Design

How do you organize all of the curriculum pieces together?

How do you organize all of the curriculum pieces together?

This is a Question Matrix I created to help to explore the curriculum based on important questions we need to be asking ourselves when designing our programs. It was inspired by the work of Dillon (2009). It is very big and complicated – perhaps quite impractical – but it is also very organized and comprehensive. A cumbersome, yet reflective tool to use while planning and designing your curriculum.

The same questions are along each axis, but interconnect in different ways:

Teacher – who?

Student – Who?

Subject – What?

Milieu – Where and When? 

Goal – Why? What is the point?

Activity – How?

Result – When? 


Please find a printable version here: Question Matrix

Deborah McCallum

c 2016



Dillon, J. T. (2009). The questions of curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 41(3), 343-359. doi:10.1080/00220270802433261
What are the basic things that compose curriculum, and what are the questions that may be posed about these things? Joseph Schwab’s conception of curriculum is used to introduce a scheme of questions concerning the nature, elements, and practice of curriculum. Formulations of questions by other curriculum theorists are reviewed and analysed in light of this scheme, and the various uses of such questions are described. How far the questions prove to enhance thinking and acting in the domain of curriculum is the ultimate criterion of the usefulness of the questions. The answer to this final test question, as to the others, is to be found in the circumstances of practice

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