Moving Students Toward a “Growth Mindset” in Computer Science

At a recent mathematics educators’ conference during which I was both an attendee and presenter, I was bombarded with sessions about the current education theory, Growth Mindset. I had been introduced to this theory at several local edCamps that I have attended over the last few months.

Growth Mindset was coined by Carol Dweck, Stanford University psychologist. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.” ( She defines the counterpart, a fixed mindset, “as the belief that traits are just givens. People have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that. If they have a lot, they’re all set, but if they don’t… So people in this mindset worry about their traits and how adequate they are. They have something to prove to themselves and others.” (

I attended a Mindset session presented by Jo Boaler, ( Stanford Professor of Mathematics Education.  She discussed the growth mindset activities that she used with junior high students that were attending a summer school program due to poor grades in math. She demonstrated a problem that contained 3 sets of blocks that increase in number each step.
The students were asked to describe the pattern.  There were different descriptions that were given.  Some examples included a volcano, where the left and right sides increase.  Another description was to add a row across the bottom.

I assigned the same problem to my computer science students.  They also described the increase as a volcano and increasing from the bottom.  We discussed how we could write a program to calculate the number of blocks from their descriptions and different approaches that could be used.  I decided that this exercise was so successful that I would try a few more.  Fawn Nguyen created the website that has 160 patterns.  I began using those as Do Now activities to help students build their pattern recognition.  The students have found different approaches to each pattern.  We then discuss how these could be programmed.  As the students are working on these problems, I walk around the room and if they are stuck I ask the students how they see each pattern growing and describe it to me.  I suggest that they use their description to build an equation.

This week I had the students view a Kahn Academy video about “Growth Mindset”

The students answered 3 questions online and explained the why behind their answer.  The 3 questions were:

  1. Do you agree with Sal Khan that you can grow your mind?  Why or Why not?
  2. Do you agree with Sal Khan that you learn more from your mistakes?  Why or why not?
  3. Finally, how will this change your work in the computer science class?

Then each student responded to  2 other student posts.

I have just started with working on activities to help the students to move toward a “Growth Mindset”. A few other strategies I need to do is to remind the students that it is “ok” to make mistakes because they can learn more from the mistakes rather than just get the correct answer.  I also need to investigate how to reward effort in my class.  I had started awarding points for extending the code that we did together in class.  I feel that this is a step in the right direction.  Additionally, I want to create a display that “rewards” improving and effort.  Maybe I can implement that second semester.

What activities can you suggest to move students toward a “Growth Mindset”?

This entry was posted in News and Views, Points of Interest, Teaching Methods, Tips & Tricks by Myra Deister. Bookmark the permalink.

About Myra Deister

Myra Deister earned a bachelors degree from Cal State Long Beach with a major in mathematics and a minor in business education. Additionally, she has earned masters degrees in Software Engineering from National University and education and mathematics from Cal State Fullerton. She has taught junior high, high school and community college mathematics and computer science in both the Garden Grove, Fullerton Joint Union High School Districts and North Orange County Community College District. Her course load includes AP Computer Science A, Computer Science AB, Fundamentals of Programming and Pre-Calculus. She is actively involved with Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and serves on their Board of Directors. She also serves as a member of the board of directors for Orange County Computer Using Educators (OCCUE). Currently she is serving as the adviser for Sunny Hills High School Orange County Academic Decathlon team.