Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Screen-shot-2010-12-17-at-9.46.05-AM-300x174Ever take on too much and then have to let some things slide?  Who hasn’t?

Last year, I was developing a new semester-long physics course, changing to a standards-based grading system, and being a first time mom of two kids (not exactly a new parent, but learning how to stretch myself and going back to accommodating a baby’s schedule & needs). I had wanted to blog regularly, which was a noble goal, but then I had some unexpected challenges in the classroom.

Now, they probably shouldn’t have been unexpected.  There was nothing particularly earth-shattering about any one of these students.  Even taken as a whole, the class did not present any extremely difficult or physically threatening situations.  But my classroom management skills were put to the test, and I FAILED.

Demoralized by my inability to create a productive, efficient, positive learning environment, and also a bit over my head in the commitments I had taken on, I stopped blogging and managed as best I could to do the rest.

But I was really disappointed in my results and even my effort in the classroom last year.  This led me to do a lot of thinking this summer.  And when I finally felt restored enough to take some action (two weeks before school started), I stumbled upon three great resources that I plan to use to kick-start my retraining in classroom management.

I did have a classroom management class as part of my teacher training, but maybe I lacked the classroom experience or just need more time to internalize what I learned.  Enter Teach Like a ChampionSuccess at the Core, and Mindset.

Teach Like a Champion

First is a book by Doug Lemov that details 49 techniques to create a well run classroom.  While I don’t believe employing these tactics alone will create champion teachers, I do believe that using them can help me build the kind of learning environment I wish to create.

I love that the techniques are broken down into what seem to be very manageable and repeatable chunks.  Not feeling like a natural teacher myself, it is important to me to have thorough instructions that I feel I could remember to follow during class.   Some of the ideas I am already using, some I have known about but haven’t been great at implementing, and some offered a new perspective for me.  I have chosen three to focus on for now. I’ll write another post soon detailing those.

Success at the Core

The second resource I found accidentally.  I can’t even remember exactly how I found it, but Success at the Core is an awesome, free professional development website for teachers.  It contains videos on various content, instruction, and assessment strategies, associated lesson plans, explanation from teachers implementing these strategies, and outside supplemental resources.  I have only brushed the surface of what this site offers so far, but I am impressed.  I will say that as a high school teacher, I was at first disappointed to see that all the videos I have watched so far are of middle school settings, but I am really impressed with the level of responsibility required of these middle school students.  Like with the Teach Like a Champion techniques, I have decided to pick three areas on which to concentrate.  I’ll write another post soon detailing those too.


The final source I am using to revamp my classroom is actually one I had heard about last year.  There are many other math and science teachers (and probably teachers in other contents too!) who are using the idea of the growth mindset as presented in Mindset by Carol Dweck to help students learn as much as possible.  I’ll admit, although I have tried, I have not yet been able to read the book in its entirety. What I have managed to glean from others, skimming the book, and looking at the website is:

  • Intelligence is flexible.  It can grow (or shrink) based on experiences.  We are not born with some finite amount of intelligence that we cannot change.
  • People that realize their intelligence can grow (those that have a growth mindset) experience even more growth because they believe hard work will pay off, that challenges are chances to grow, and overall have a positive outlook in terms of their intelligence.

While this is an extreme oversimplification of the growth mindset theory, I summed it up for my students this way:  When we get to a section of chemistry that is challenging, we will be better able to handle that challenge if we believe in our abilities to master chemistry.  Kind of like the little engine that could “I think I can, I think I can, …”

I started the school year with a day spent on the idea of the growth mindset and I plan to revisit it occasionally.  I hope that it will open my students up to accepting challenges and their own and others’ mistakes.  I plan to write a post detailing what I did to establish this idea of the growth mindset and also where I’ll go from there.


So my idea from last year of starting a blog about creating a Modeling Instruction classroom has shifted just a bit.  I do hope that one day I will contribute some novel approaches or resources that can be used in other chemistry or physics classrooms.  For now, my blog will document a mix of the various aspects of my classroom – including classroom management and content.

I am also participating in the Modeling 180 project detailing several Modeling Physics and Modeling Chemistry classrooms.  My own Science Without Spectators 180 will end up having around 90 entries (because of block scheduling) but I hope it will be a way to get a quick peek into my classroom.

Just as I encourage my students to learn from their mistakes – I hope to do the same.