Unfixing a Broken Mindset

New Skills in Search String on Smartphone.I can now relate to my students! For several years I have told my students, “Don’t be afraid to fail, be afraid not to try.” At the beginning of October I decided to stop saying that to my students and actually live it.

I have a love/really hate relationship with math. I teach science and understand that mathematics plays an important role. I use it every day (from figuring how many miles I have left to drive to how much to tip), but it was not fun for me. If you asked me to learn geometry or algebra, it would take me a few minutes to process that and then bust out laughing at the idea of a 22 year veteran teacher learning something new.

For a long time in my career, I thought like that. “I can’t learn something new, only young teachers enjoy math.” I had a fixed mindset. I was happy teaching out of my tried and true Teacher’s Edition and giving those summative assessments so graciously provided by the district. I tried to learn a few new thing, but always came across a challenge that I didn’t get correct. I usually gave up. A great example is when I tried to learn HTML several years ago. Our district was just starting to integrate websites for teachers and I wanted to learn how to make mine cool like others I saw from the new teachers just coming out of college. I began learning a few of the commands and it started getting more complex. I kept getting error messages with no real way to find out where the problem was. I gave up after only two weeks. The book is still sitting on my desk as a reminder of that time in my life when I would give up just because I failed.

Fast forward to the 2015/2016 school year. Over the summer I read three books that changed my outlook/mindset/motivation. The first book was Mindset by Carol Dweck. This book introduced me to the idea of a growth mindset. Looking at things as opportunities to learn and grow. I didn’t want to go back to that fixed mindset again. At the end of summer I read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and He’s the Weird Teacher by Doug Robertson [Ed. Note- I promise I didn’t tell him to write this, and I’m flattered]. These two books made me realize
that I needed to bring passion back into my classroom.

This is how I began my year, with enthusiasm and passion. I told my students that failure is our first step and that it shows you are trying something new. I even showed the YouTube video Famous Failures. What kind of a “Weird/Pirate” teacher would I be if I didn’t try something new and persevere through the failures, just like my students.

Then I got an email from one of the many edtech companies that send us all emails regularly. Usually I’d look it over and delete it because, let’s be honest, I don’t appreciate the beauty of math and this particular one includes a lot of math. This message was different though. It was about how Pixar made their beloved computer animated movies and characters. They were introducing a new series of learning modules around this concept. I was immediately interested. I had just taught my students how to do stop-motion animation using Google Slides. I wanted to learn more, so I signed up.

Who would have guessed that digital animation involved a ton of math? The very first lesson was on calculating the points on a parabola. This was the moment of truth. I had to get five correct answers in a row to move on. The first time I tried, the answer was incorrect. I told myself, “This is what your students feel like when they come across a problem and get it wrong.” I could do this. It was time to break out another notebook and start taking notes. Five correct in a row and I was moving on.

The math got more complex and I kept going. I was using math to animate lines and shapes. It was exhilarating. Even when I get a question wrong, I wanted to try again and again. I found my passion and it didn’t matter that there was math involved. I actually looked forward to learning more about Linear Interpolation. Videos,
hints, and actual use of what I learned kept me going. The feeling I had when I was able to apply what I just learned to an actual character was indescribable.

I encourage every educator out there to find their passion and don’t be afraid of failure. Take risks, be a little weird, and experience what your students go through. I have a new appreciation for those teachers who try something new. If you ever have a doubt, remember that a 46 year old veteran teacher just learned how to solve algebraic equations and geometry because he discovered a passion. This is the power of a growth mindset and when you say, “WHY NOT!”


Corey Cobel is currently a 7th grade Science teacher in Roseville, CA.  He has been integrating technology into his classroom since the late 90’s. From LCD Panels on the overhead projector and Laser Discs to Chromebooks and Web 2.0 Corey has always had a passion for educational technology.  He is a Google for Education Trainer and CUE Rockstar Faculty.  He loves flying his drone and getting amazing video from above.  

6 thoughts on “Unfixing a Broken Mindset”

  1. Love the fact that you are not afraid to fail! So many of us are held back by the thought of failure. Myself included. I’m going to try it! I don’t know what the “it” is just yet…but I’m going to go for it…success or failure with my whole heart! Thanks for the encouragement and loan of your courage.

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