“Growth Mindset” and “Participation Trophies”

I ran across an article about students last week (here) that discussed “mindset’ and in particular, “growth mindset”.

Some points:

  1. Your belief about your own intelligence has a big impact on your learning behavior and whether or not you can be an effective self-directed-learner.
  2. If you believe that a subject is “too hard”, you won’t even try to learn it — and maybe even put-down those who have mastered it.
  3. Conversely, if you are told that “It’s easy” and you find it difficult, that enforces your, “I’m really not that smart” feeling.
  4. If you can convince students that learning is a process (and mistakes are part of that), you’ll find that they work harder, are less easily discouraged, and learn more.  That’s the “growth mindset”.

My addition: Just showing up and getting that “I occupied space, even tried, and got a trophy” is counter-productive and should be discouraged.

Have you ever learned a craft, a musical instrument, or how to sew?  When you started you could barely do anything productive.

But, you kept at it. Now, you are routinely doing things that you could barely imagine making when you started.  You might also remember frustrations, and  how many times you almost quit.  Such is the stuff of learning anything worthwhile.  It was hard, but you did it.

Does learning to program a computer fit in here? Sure, it’s great training.  Definitely a metaphor for many things.  You start completely clueless and soon, you learn a language and can solve complicated problems relatively easily. You learn, from the get-go, that your initial effort always fails.  It’s just part of the process.  Finding those sneaky little errors takes some real detective work, but you learn how to do it.

What’s really fun (and satisfying!) is finding the errors in other’s programs.  Don’t gloat too much.  You’ll be on both sides of that equation — many times.

Best of all, you get a great feeling of accomplishment when your program works.  The computer doesn’t know that your family contributed a wing on the local hospital — or that one of your relatives (even you!) smuggles drugs.  Computers just don’t care.  A computer just follows your instructions — exactly!

It’s just you and the machine.  It’s 100% on you. (well, sometimes the computer actually has a “bug” or that some mysterious, evil gremlin (usually from outer space) changes what you wrote so that the program doesn’t work. — but that’s rare.)  The fault lies with the person that you see in the mirror — no one else.

The way you learn to program is in small steps.  You write many (all eventually successful) programs.  Many fail at first (in my case 99% of the time), but that’s no biggie. You just mumble a few bad words, find out why it didn’t work, and try again.  Even that’s a rewarding process — be Columbo! (Ok, youngsters, look him up!)

Aside: it’s much more efficient now.  When I learned, I had to punch in the entire program on paper tape (look up TeleType Machine).  That tape was read into the computer (had to wait your turn) then if the program finished (if not, lots of  angry looks from the computer operators), I received a nice roll of paper tape that I put into a TeleType machine so I could look at the output.

After several tries, I finally succeeded.  It’s like my neighbor, who plays golf.  He says, “You always win.  No matter how many strokes you take, the ball always gets in the hole”.

Same deal with programming,  Now it’s all interactive (on-line) and you get almost instant feedback.  That’s great but, that can promote very sloppy programming habits — so “no-free-lunch”.  I’m afraid that the schools tend to ignore those good practices and in fact promote bad ones. But that’s another story.

If you’ve never programmed, go and get your iPad. Download the free Hopscotch app.  Give it a shot.  Fun. Tell me that when you (finally?) get your first program to work, that it isn’t a thrill — at least a little bit?

Teach your kids, or grandkids a little Hopscotch.  Nothing like teaching to learn it yourself.  You definitely won’t need to give them a “participation trophy”.

P.S.  You know that you can leave comments, right?  Don’t be shy.

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