“What does it mean to have a ‘growth mindset?’” This is a question that my third, fourth, and fifth grade math students and I have talked a lot about. However, I like to pose the question of what a growth mindset is in a different way. At the beginning of the year, my students and I will talk about what it means to have a “bubble gum brain.” We read the book Bubble Gum Brain by Julia Cook and talk deeply about what it means to have a “bubble gum brain” versus a “brick brain.” For those of you who have never heard about or read this book, here’s a quick summary of the characters. First, you have Brick Brain. Brick Brain loves when he’s right, accepts his work as good enough, but tends to consider his mistakes a failure and gives up easily. On the other hand, you have Bubble Gum Brain. Bubble Gum Brain embraces new challenges, practices to get even better, and understands that new things take time.
As a math class, we also talk about how our brains are much more powerful than we realize. Our brains develop pathways to learn, develop, and retain new information. However, what happens when we become frustrated when something isn’t going our way, or the new information just seems “too hard?” That’s where the “bubble gum brain” comes in. The students learn that when we use our “bubble gum brains,” we are allowing our brain to stretch and grow when we practice something new. It also helps us realize that we will make mistakes, but even when we do, our brain is still growing and learning.
My students and I talk about how our words make a difference too! We do away with using words and phrases like, “This is too hard!” or “I can’t do this!” Instead, we introduce the word “yet” into our vocabulary. It’s amazing to see the change the word “yet” can have to a phrase like “I can’t do this.” The students will actually catch themselves and each other and remind them to say, “I can’t do this yet!” Even a simple rephrasing can put the problem into perspective and change their attitude.
The idea behind teaching these two characters to my students is simple. It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking that we are not good enough at something, therefore we shouldn’t try. Adults struggle with this too! However, knowing that our brains are wired and ready to learn new information, helps us to feel confident about attempting something new.