Do I want my students to just polish bike parts or enjoy the ride?

Blurred green background with person riding a bike

A  few nights ago, I decided to take my bike out and ride what I call “the loop.” It’s only about 12 miles, has some nice little hills, some great views….sounds great, right? Just a mile or so into it, I was seriously debating turning around and taking a different path. By 7 miles, I was having to talk myself through it out loud. Why? Not because I didn’t want to ride but because I didn’t want to ride like that. Turns out the road surface was pretty bad for over half my ride, even under construction for part of it….and of course I had my skinny-tired road bike. I was worrying I’d blow a tire out, and it was not a comfortable ride!  I realized I should have taken my hybrid/trail bike whose tires are more than twice as wide and are designed for an uneven surface; I should have also brought more water. I should have maybe checked it out a little more before deciding to do the loop that evening. I was telling myself to just keep riding, and I was really happy to reach the last four miles or so, where it was paved nicely and smooth again and I knew I was close to finishing my ride.

The ride I took after that was completely different; I had decent pavement all the way and I was on a bike trail for part of it. I also got a few tips from other riders as we passed each other; I had plenty of water this time, and the road surfaces were fine. Even just a few people saying “ hi,” or “watch out-gravel ahead,” or “you really climbed that hill” can make your day. That sense of community keeps you going when you want to give up.

My bike ride analogy is really applicable to my students. I just finished teaching an eight-week summer class; I had students who “trained” only once a week: “I’m going to do all my homework for the week on Friday.” I had those who “sprinted” and then quit. There were those who thought they can start the course two weeks late and still be successful. I had some who “rode” daily, but gave up at the first hill. When I ride, or work on something challenging, I am often talking myself through a challenging hill or re-thinking my path or planning how I’d do the ride differently next time. But I realize that many of my students are not doing that; they haven’t developed the metacognitive skills to reflect on their poor time management or content area deficits; and, they are resistant in many cases to the “practice.” They just want the easy ride or the gratification of winning the bike race. How do we change that mindset? How do we get them to embrace the productive struggle? How do I create that sense of community bike riders have with each other and help them find their “support riders?” How can we help them “just keep riding?” How do I help my students begin to believe in themselves and motivate themselves?

Some tools we’ve explored in other blog articles would include communicating with your students using the Search/Email by Criteria MyLab tool, using the Discussion boards, Chat/ClassLive, creating mini lessons with apps like Educreations or Show Me, and more. Collaborative activities and using Learning Catalytics groups help engage students and provide venues for discussions. I posted a short article about mindset on the discussion board, but only a few read it and commented in my summer course this time. Other times, I get some great responses and will share them anonymously with other classes. Ironically, that is part of the mindset framework–seeing the importance of exploring the ideas not just computation or generation of test answers. Don’t forget the all import basic study skills, too.  We can share resources such as and review resources for time management, test-taking strategies, reading strategies for content, and more.

It’s one thing to acknowledge we need to change, and a whole other thing to make that happen. In addition to using and sharing the resources already noted, we can also share Carol Dweck’s four steps to begin building/growing a growth mindset with students. I think being honest with students and sharing your own struggles with mindset can be helpful, too. Sometimes I think my students are amazed to learn I struggle, too!  You might want to share the practical tips and advice in this article about mindset, too.

Jo Boaler writes in her book Mathematical Mindsets, “When teachers are given lists of content to teach, they see a subject that has been stripped down to its bare parts like a dismantled bike-a collection of nuts and bolts that students are meant to shine and polish all year. Lists of contents don’t include connections; they present mathematics as though connections do not even exist. I don’t want students polishing disconnected bike parts all day! I want them to get onto the assembled bikes and ride freely, experiencing the pleasure of math….” (pp. 31,32). Yes, even if we are a little wobbly or have to work a little harder on the hills, let’s go for a ride!


About the Author
Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister has been teaching college courses since 1992. In June 2015, she resigned from her full-time position at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania, where all the math courses have undergone some level of redesign. She still teaches online there and now is part of Pearson’s Efficacy team, helping instructors to implement programs and strategies that bolster student success.

She is intrigued by neurobiological research and learning theory, and she was quick to adopt adaptive learning as a new tool in her courses. Not only does she strive to help her students succeed, but Diane enjoys the collaboration with her peers. She has taught a variety of courses and loves learning how new technology and resources can help students be more successful.