Sunday, April 9, 2017


Several recent reports provide strong research-based evidence that both 
  • societal stereotypes, and 
  • the perceptions held by practitioners within the academic disciplines 
are at the culprit of gender gaps across various academic fields.  The perceived traits such as “intellectual brilliance,” being a “genius,” and having “natural talent” are often associated with men and not women. For example, a recent analysis of Google search queries by American parents indicates that queries weighted towards boys involve intelligence while queries weighted towards girls involve appearance. The author of the study, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes:
In fact, of all Google searches starting “Is my 2-year-old,” the most common next word is “gifted.” But this question is not asked equally about young boys and young girls. Parents are two and a half times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?”
In a recent study Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests, Bian et al. found that at age 5, boys and girls considered themselves “really smart” equally often. However, by age 6, girls tend to avoid games/activities perceived as intended for “really smart” kids. You can also read about this study in this New York Times article, and watch the short description here:

In another study published in Science in 2015, Leslie et al. demonstrate that the way brilliance is viewed in different academic fields correlates with the percentage of women practitioners in that field. You can read the commentary on the paper and watch the description of the research by Dr. Leslie:

Finally, in a recent PLOS ONE article, Storage et al. looked at the frequency of the words “brilliant” and “genius” in over 14 million teaching evaluations on The authors write:
Fields in which the words “brilliant” and “genius” were used more frequently on also had fewer female and African American Ph.D.s. Looking at an earlier stage in students’ educational careers, we found that brilliance-focused fields also had fewer women and African Americans obtaining bachelor’s degrees. These relationships held even when accounting for field-specific averages on standardized mathematics assessments, as well as several competing hypotheses concerning group differences in representation.
Believing some people are “intellectually brilliant,” “geniuses,”or have “natural talent” is contrary to having a growth mindset. In fact, thinking about intelligence as changeable and malleable, rather than stable and fixed reduces stereotype threat

Students who adopt growth mindset as their own learning philosophy are less prone to the risk of conforming to societal or disciplinary stereotypes that associate their aptitude or intellectual capacity with gender, race, nationality, previous educational experience, etc. 

Carol Dweck summarized these findings and their association with the growth mindset principles in a short clip available here:

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Research shows, not surprisingly, that most parents, teachers, and students perceive school as a “performance zone.” In school, as in a performance, students are expected to

  • do as well as they can, 
  • execute flawlessly on mostly standardized tests that provide one (and only one) correct answer to each question, 
  • master the material, and 
  • avoid mistakes. 

We pay less attention to the “learning zone” in which

  • the goal is to improve, 
  • students focus is on what they have not mastered yet, and 
  • mistakes are expected.

In the “learning zone,” the mistakes are result of being challenged, rather than the result of a laps of focus and unpreparedness. Eduardo Briceno offers an interesting article on "Transforming Schools from Performance to Learning," i.e. how we all operate in both "performance" and "learning" zones, and how we can improve learning by deliberately (and consciously) alternating between these two zones.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Sylvia Serfaty is a prominent French mathematician working on quantum vortexes and Ginzburg-Landau theory. She won the EMS Prize in 2004 and Henri Poincare Prize in 2014. In this video she “explains why you don’t have to be a genius to become a mathematician.

Terence Tao, a recipient of Fields Medal and Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics, offers similar insights in his essay “Does one have to be a genius to do maths?” Dr. Tao writes:
Does one have to be a genius to do mathematics? The answer is an emphatic NO.  In order to make good and useful contributions to mathematics, one does need to work hard, learn one’s field well, learn other fields and tools, ask questions, talk to other mathematicians, and think about the “big picture.” And yes, a reasonable amount of intelligence, patience, and maturity is also required. But one does not need some sort of magic “genius gene” that spontaneously generates ex nihilo deep insights, unexpected solutions to problems, or other supernatural abilities.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Dr. Shahab Derakhshan (in collaboration with general chemistry instructors, Marjan Mohammadi and Andrea Chen), and Dr. Michael Schramm (organic chemistry), Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, CSULB, developed syllabi with extensive growth-minded comments and tips for success. The examples are focused on the “importance of process” in learning, learning from mistakes, and metacognitive learning strategies (without necessarily mentioning the term “metacognition”).  The following are excerpts from their syllabi for CHEM 111A (General Chemistry I) and CHEM 220A (Organic Chemistry I) (with some text omitted and emphasis added).  

GENERAL CHEMISTRY I, CHEM 111A, (Dr. Shahab Derakhshan)

Dear CHEM 111A team:
Please treat this document as a guideline for your pathway to success. I am well aware that many of you are taking this class only because of your degree requirements and some of you may even dislike this subject. I also know that for some of you, some of the topics that are covered in the class will be never used in future life. However, I would like to assure you that we will discuss Chemistry as a tool to strengthen our intellectual ability, problem solving skills and critical thinking. Using Chemistry we will practice to become stronger individuals towards solving real life problems, which may be outside of the scope of Chemistry. I am sure that many of you who don’t like Chemistry now, will change your mind at the end of semester.

This class was traditionally known as one of the most challenging classes at CSULB. However, together with great students such as you and other resources available to assist us (TAs, SI leaders, advisors, etc.) we have successfully turned this challenge into a joyful and rewarding learning experience. My role here is nothing but coaching you during this journey and witnessing your academic growth, for which I will use my best ability. Of course you are the key players and by putting your best effort in the direction that is described in the following, you will be able to score very high and make your coach proud.

Here are some hints. Please read this document carefully and in a positive tone, these are only some advices and regulations that will increase your success. Please don’t treat this document as an enforcement tool to implement some tough/rigid rules. Remember that even when we play games, we obey the rules and still enjoy the experience. 

1)      Most of the students I meet during my office hours tell me that they attend the classes and labs, read the book, work on homework. However, some of them still don’t get the results that they want during the exams. I have noticed that the order of these activities are very important and play a big role on determining the success. The best practice from my point of view is: a) read the textbook before class b) come to the lectures with your questions  c) immediately after the lecture start working on the Mastering Chemistry and activity problems  d) ask for assistance on the questions that you have problem with before the next lecture.  

2) Try to read the material before coming to the class. Reading before the lecture, will help you to identify your weak points that require more focus and attention. I know that it is not easy to keep 100% of our focus during the entire lecture period. But if before the lecture we know our weakness, when it is covered during the lecture we will try to listen more carefully and if we still feel unclear, it is the best opportunity to ask questions. Remember that my explanations during the limited lecture hours are designed in such a way that your knowledge, obtained via your previous reading, will become crystal clear.

3)   My lecture notes, which will be posted before the class will contain a lot of blank areas. You will fill those blanks during the lecture. (I will never provide you with the completed electronic version. If you miss any class this is your responsibility to get them from your friends).

4)   Try to understand the material. We will discuss the materials conceptually and will try to avoid memorizing stuff as much as we can.

5)  There is nothing as a bad question. Don’t be shy. Ask if you need more explanations. I know for fact that the your questions are the same as your classmates’ (and perhaps they don’t even know that). Use all the resources for help. Ask during the lecture, use your office hours, both your TAs’ and mine. Remember your TAs and I are here to help you, so come to us with your questions.

6) […] AVOID GOOGLING THE QUESTIONS!!! The impact of each MC mistake you make in your total final grade is negligible compared to those you may make during the exams. The idea is to learn from our mistakes during our practice so they don’t happen during the tests. Even if this practice seems tedious, which I know it does, do your best and keep saying that practice is the key for any victory.

ORGANIC CHEMISTRY I, CHEM 220A, (Dr. Michael Schramm)

Organic chemistry is a very special subject, unlike anything you’ve studied before. Part chemistry, part physics, part biology, part problem solving. It is very reliant on drawing, thinking in 3D and using logic to solve problems rather than memorizing facts or reactions. It is not a difficult course, it is a different course. It is not impossible, it takes practice and dedication and a attitude that “I can do this.” An attitude that “I’ve heard this is tough” “If I fail I can take this class again” “I’m not good at chemistry” “I’ve never done good in chemistry” “I can drop if I don’t do well” these attitudes will be the ONLY reasons you don’t pass. Upon completion you will have access to a new world of molecules and understand their properties and how they react. You’ll be able to make predictions about new reactions you’ll uncover as you continue to study biology, biochemistry and chemistry. You’ll have a new appreciation of chemistry in your daily life, from paints, dyes, food products, polymers and plastics, liquids, solids, acids and bases. You’ll have a strengthened understanding of reaction thermodynamics and kinetics. You’ll also be able to propose how to make new molecules! You’ll have skills to analyze molecules using spectroscopic tools. You will be able to speak articulately about chemistry and chemical problems and have a deeper appreciation of science and confidence in your abilities to discuss and create using science. You’ll have critical skills needed to understand science you read about in news sources. You’ll have new confidence in your abilities to solve problems and you’ll develop new tools that you can use in other academic areas for success. All of these things you are capable of!

The recipe to do so follows: The best students who embrace the “I can do this” attitude, they make no excuses, they study routinely so that they always try to understand the material that has been presented to them in class. They don’t look for time to study, they set aside time for studying first, and friends and extracurricular activities second. When they don’t understand something they immediately get help by email or office hours. They come to each class understanding what happened in the last class, and thus learning new material continues to become easier and easier, confidence builds and time studying becomes more fulfilling and fun. 

Please open your calendars; Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday, set aside 2 hours of time to study Tuesday’s notes and do Tuesday’s problems. Between Thursday and Monday night, you need to put 5-6 hours of studying in, preferably in several small 2 hours blocks. […] If you get stuck, open the notes, or the text book, try your hardest. Don’t cheat yourself and look in the key, don’t ask a tutor to do your work for you! Show me your work right after class, or in office hours. I can rapidly affirm correct work or point out where you can improve. I won’t tell you you’re wrong! But I’ll show you where you can fix mistakes. Through this process you’ll learn how to do what the best students do, find their own mistakes. Right before exams, briefly review topics you feel good about and heavily review the topics you don’t feel so strong about. […]

What you can expect from me: I will come to every class prepared and energetic with a positive attitude about the material and your efforts to do you best. […] I will work especially closely with students who lack confidence, by helping to correct misconceptions about who can be successful in science (hint: anyone can!). I will be prepared in office hours with my best suggestions to help you move forward. I’ll answer your emails promptly M-F so long as I’m not occupied in other classes or meetings. I’ll give you meaningful and SHORT reading assignments. I will not assign the whole text to read. I’ll present the notes in a clear and logical way; when you study them you’ll also be prepared for the next lecture as well as the quizzes, homework assignments and exams. I will make quiz and exam questions logical, following material from class and assignments. I’ll present SOME questions that are meant to challenge you. I will not insult your intelligence by asking you to recreate what I do in class, I will change and modify the problems we learn in class so that you can grow as a student and find new ways to solve problems. I will not reward memorization. I will reward students who work through tough material to develop skills and logic. I’ll make exams fair, but challenging and fun so that positive minded students don’t feel anxiety about them, but rather feel “i can do this” “I’m looking forward to showing what I know and what I’ve studied. […]

What I expect from you: You will introduce yourself to me in the first two weeks. You’ll set up your calendar with 6-8 hours of study time that you will commit to every week, not just before exams and you will show it to me in office hours in the first three weeks. You’ll have 4 weeks to show me that you purchased, opened and are using your model kit in office hours. These expectations will result in bonus points. If you want them, come get them. You’ll come to class on time. You’ll be prepared for unannounced quizzes which will reward your weekly study - the quizzes will be easy if you study, impossible if you don’t. You will come to office hours for help with any issues you are having in the class or email me. You’ll show me your work after class or in office hours if you would like me to check it or help you improve and do your very best. 

You’ll come to office hours to develop an effective way to study for this course especially if you have a “this is too tough for me attitude.” Together we will develop an “I can” attitude. I expect you to pick up your quizzes and exams on time and review the keys. If you find something you don’t understand, you should come see me right away. I expect you’ll take good notes and do the assigned reading. Students can read the text on their own and I expect that if students want to they will figure out what chapters to read based on the problems I assign. Lecture will not follow the text book. The text however will always support lecture.[…]

All students will be treated equitably and fairly, don’t ask for special treatment because you’re unhappy about what you didn’t accomplish. I will be here all semester to help you succeed, but you have to do your best to prepare for the course and see me during the semester when we can do something about your performance. Everything you need to do well is described in this syllabus - so at the end of the semester, I expect you to show this course and your accomplishments the same respect that I will show you all semester.

You will have 16 weeks to show me your best work to accomplish what you decide you want to. Let’s get started now!

Sunday, February 26, 2017


We are continuing to showcase growth mindset language in the syllabi and course materials developed by CSULB faculty. The examples below are borrowed from the Spring 2017 syllabi by Ladera Barbee, Rebecca Bishop Jen-Mei Chang, Joshua Chesler, Gerald Geier, Andrea Johnson, Florence Newberger, T.R. Rubino-Schaefer, Kagba Suaray, and Truong P. Tran,  Department of Mathematics & Statistics, CSULB.

Dear Student,
I’m looking forward to working with you this semester! I know that Business Calculus has a reputation as being a hard class. It can be challenging and time consuming but if we both work hard and do our best, I believe that this class will be a valuable learning experience for you. I promise you that I will do my best to provide information in a clear and understandable way. I will be here to answer your questions. In turn, I ask you to try your hardest, don’t give up, and ask for help when needed. When you succeed on an assignment, I hope you experience the reward and pride from working hard. If you don’t do as well as you wanted on an assignment, know you are not a failure. Use that non-desirable outcome as a learning experience, make changes, and grow. Here is to a GREAT semester!
Ladera Barbee

First, you must recognize there is a difference between understanding something and knowing how to do it. For example, if you play basketball, you may understand the job is to score a basket, but you may not have the skill to get the ball through the hoop. In math, you may understand a question, but you may not have the algebraic skill to do the question. In basketball, the only way to get the shooting skill is to shoot lots of baskets; in math, the only way to get the algebraic skill is to do lots of questions. If you can’t do a question at first, look
back at the text, notes, etc, find out how and then repeat it until you can do it completely without help. / Truong Tran

Ready? Let’s get to work! Your brain is not in a fixed state; in fact, it physically grows and develops as you learn. Your job now is to grow your brain! This class is not trying to test to what degree you are a “math person,” or how smart you are. Instead, it’s going to provide resources and strategies, and then help you see how well you can use them to train your brain. / Rebecca Bishop, Gerald Geier, Florence Newberger

We are committed to your success and willing to do anything to ensure that happens. If you are not being successful in the class, please do something or say something right away, don't wait until it's too late! Suggestions and comments are always welcome and strongly encouraged. There is not an one-size-fits-all way to promote learning for everyone, we are always willing to work with students individually to help them learn. All you need to do is ASK!Jen-Mei Chang, Joshua Chesler

My Role as Your Instructor. I view my role as instructor as part safari leader and part personal trainer – my job is to guide you safely through the math I love so much. I try to offer opportunities for you to learn, think, try new things, and practice. I try to give you tips and warnings about how not to get hurt – one of the biggest of which, both for this course and in “real” life, is – don’t assume, ASK. If you’re struggling, ASK. If you’re upset with some part of the course, ASK. If you’re upset at me, ASK. I encourage you to reach out to me and to each other whenever you have questions or concerns. / T.R. Rubino-Schaefer

Evaluation: Grades are designed to measure the level of your understanding against the learning objectives I proposed earlier. They are not indicators of your smartness nor goodness of fit (for math); rather, indicators of your efforts by the time the exams are taken. / Jen-Mei Chang

Exams are designed to assess your mastery of core concepts and they are written at a level for you to be successful. Exams take approximately 60 minutes to complete, but you should take your time and you may use the entire class period to work on it. If you find the first exam difficult or have trouble completing it, you may not yet have mastered the material for the exam. You may need to implement alternative study strategies or dedicate more time practicing problems. / Andrea Johnson

For final grades, I do consider improvement over time if you start slow. / Kagba Suaray

The Maintenance / Improvement portion of your grade is based  on  you  maintaining  a  70%  grade  on  each midterm and quiz (assessment). If you receive a score below 70% on a particular assessment, you must show evidence of attending at least two tutoring sessions or office hours for at least one hour each before the next assessment. / Kagba Suaray

Important Administrative Dates. You have until the “last day to withdraw without a W” (the date is given below) to decide if you wish to commit to this course. If you remain enrolled after that date, you are committing to monitor your progress, and make timely adjustments to your study strategies until you find one with which you can succeed and complete the course. Once you commit, do not plan to give up and withdraw. Come see me before it’s too late. We’ll work together to make it happen. / Florence Newberger

Sunday, February 19, 2017


This is the first post in a series that intends to showcase growth mindset language in the syllabi and course materials developed by our outstanding CSULB faculty. The examples below are borrowed from the Spring 2017 syllabi by Drs. Judy Brusslan, Ashley Carter, and Jesse Dillon, Department of Biological Sciences.

1.       Focus on process and effort

Studies show that people become better writers by writing often. / Dr. Brusslan

In this course, you are developing your writing skills.  A writer needs to convert ideas into written words.  This is a process that requires continual practice, but will be necessary in whatever professional career you choose. / Dr. Brusslan

Assessments are designed to measure the level of your understanding against the learning objectives. They are not indicators of your intelligence; rather, indicators of your efforts in meeting the course objectives. / Dr. Dillon

2.       Mistakes, asking questions, and struggling with the material

To take charge of your own education, you must be willing to read the texts, ask questions, actively engage in discussions, write scientifically and learn to think critically about challenging material. Every mistake you make, every question you ask, and every time you successfully struggle with a concept, your brain grows a little bit stronger and smarter. / Dr. Dillon

Midterm and Final exams will be used assess your learning of core concepts presented in class and readings. They are written at a level for you to be successful, challenging but fair. I understand that not everyone is great at test taking, so I also use other assessments of your understanding. / Dr. Dillon

3.       Opportunity to improve

Extra credit is available for this course after the first three exams by retaking the multiple choice sections at home. After each of the first three exams the multiple choice section will be posted, you may redo the multiple choice section and hand in completed scantron forms on the next class meeting (or to my mailbox by 12:00 the next day for the third exam). These submissions will be graded and all students receiving whatever the highest score is will receive an additional 1% added to their final course grade. You must take this seriously; any students scoring below 60% on the submitted scantron will have 1% deducted instead. / Dr. Carter

Sunday, February 12, 2017


“ What it is, How it Works, and Why it Matters” by Trevor Ragan

“Fullerton College Student, Alan Brantley, shares how learning about growth mindset transformed both his approach to learning and his response to challenge.”

 “Dr. Angela Little from the University of California Berkley and others introduce the concept of student and instructor “mindsets”.