Mindset and Songbirds

Penny Smits, De Pere, WI

Mel Radeke.  He is one of the wisest men I have ever been fortunate enough to meet.  The story he conveyed to me beautifully dovetailed with the concept of mindset, a key area of investigation for CPM’s Teaching Redesign Corps this past year.

Spending time at a friend’s cabin afforded me the opportunity to meet their neighbor, Mel Radeke.  This 80ish-year-old man gave me much pause as we spoke.  As it turns out Mel was talking about the songbirds that he carves out of wood.  Mel was too humble to convey that he has won multiple national woodworking competitions, but our friends were more than eager to brag on his behalf.  He showed us photos and they were breathtakingly beautiful!

Long story short, he was at a trade show, displaying his birds.  He said many people commented on how beautiful they were and how talented he was.  But the thing that really struck him was the comment many people made, “I would never be able to create something like that.”

This really bothered Mel and he said we wanted to change the way people thought about their ability to try something.  So, for the next trade show that he went to, he had a plan.  When someone brought up the fact that they could never make something like his songbirds, he said all you need to do is try.  Many people still disbelieved that they could make such a beautiful songbird.  He then reached below the table and brought out a songbird that was of less beauty and quality than those on the table.  He then asked the people, “Do you think you could do this?”  The overwhelming majority said that they could and almost laughed at the lack of quality in the songbird.

Mel’s response was, “Well, this was my first songbird.  All you see is my beautifully crafted songbirds that I’ve created after years of practice, and you tell yourself that you can’t do it.  But, you can do this just like I did.  You see, I began to research birds and study their photographs.  I played about with the wood to try out new carvings.  You too can learn.”

He also went on to say how afraid he was to actually paint one of his birds.  He was so afraid that he would ruin the beautiful carved wooden bird because you see, he was no painter.  So afraid to make a mistake, he did not paint them at first.  But one day, he got brave and started to experiment with the paint and the colors.  Once again he practiced and studied the colors of the birds.  He began to paint and paint.  The beauty of this story is that painting was at one time the part of creating the wooden songbird that Mel dreaded the most, but today, he says it is the best part of creating the bird.

I know that I did not do justice to the story that he told me as it was so eloquent.  I just could not stop thinking about what he said.  Could I apply this to my teaching, to my classroom climate of a growth mindset? How can I show my students the first “songbird” that was created?  How can I give them the tools to understand that your first bird may be the hardest?  How can I get them to not focus on my most recent bird but instead have the courage to make their first bird?  How do I get my students to not always be fixated on the end result of years of practice and effort?   How can I naturally do this within the context of my classroom?  Mel really opened my eyes to how growth mindset needs to be promoted in all areas of our lives.  He showed me how self-talk can either be destructive and hold us back, or inspirational and carve a path forward for us.  It made me see how powerful my words are and that they need to be chosen very carefully when working with my students.  It also made me see that a growth mindset can be found everywhere, if you are willing to keep your mind open and are willing to look and listen for it.  I can honestly say, that since beginning this project with the TRC, I have noticed it more than ever.  I see it in my colleagues’ classrooms, in my son’s karate instructor’s conversation with the kids, in the media, and in the ways that others encourage one another.  I know now how extremely important it is to teach the students about mindset so that they too can become aware of how much their world is filled with it.

I am forever indebted to Mel for sharing his story and I know that I too need to show my students that first songbird.

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Algebra Tiles Blue Icon

Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.


Building on Instructional Practice Series

This series contains three different courses, taken in either order. The courses are designed for schools and teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM curriculum materials. Teachers will develop further understanding of strategies and tools for instructional practices and assessment.

Building on Equity

In this course, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their  classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for implementing Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Follow-up during the school year will support ongoing implementation of equitable classroom practices.

Building on Assessment

In this course, participants will apply assessment research to develop methods to provide feedback to students and to inform equitable assessment decisions. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

This professional learning builds upon the Foundations for Implementation Series by improving teachers’ ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rigorous, team-worthy tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices.