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Mindset Intervention

Curricular materials created for the 2016 SAIL seminar:

Silicon Valley as an Innovation Ecosystem

As a student reaches the upper echelon of any major, instructors would like the students to take risks by pulling together seemingly disparate ideas.

Originally, I intended to foster innovation in my upper level students by instructing them on the three different types of creativity (#1 in Resources & Materials). I adapted a series of associative thinking exercises from Stanford’s d.school and other sources to encourage creativity and innovation. I was surprised to discover students lacked the courage to gain from these exercises because many suffered from a fixed mindset (#2 in Resources & Materials). They were afraid to fail.

I postulated that a growth mindset plus creativity would lead to the innovation I sought to foster. However, there are few resources to help students identify fixed mindset qualities and no consistent ways to identify if someone is adapting a growth mindset.

Note: Content adapted from original curricular project

This module was executed in an introductory chemistry class. Each week students did an associative thinking exercise using a self-evaluation rubric to reflect on a series of skills important to a growth mindset. The intervention was assessed using the Berkeley Innovation Index which assesses the growth mindset of an individual through the lens of innovation.

This module is adaptable and appropriate for any level class to develop a students’ growth mindset and creativity.


In this module students will:

  1. Understand what a growth mindset is (Resource C and #3)
  2. Understand the basis of insight and creativity (Resource A and #8)
  3. Identify whether they are beginning, developing, or succeeding in a select set of skills accompanied by evidence (Resource C and #4)
  4. Develop and execute a plan to improve selected skills (#5)
  5. Reflect on their plan to improve each skill (#5)
  6. Perform associative learning exercises to improve their growth mindset and creativity (Resource A)


The Mindset Intervention

Executed and assessed over the course of one semester

  1. Pretest of growth mindset/innovative ability before class starts (Resource D and #6)
  2. Growth mindset and the malleability of the brain to begin class (Resource B and #3)
  3. Students select one of 10 barriers to growth mindset/innovative thinking, rate whether they are beginning, developing or succeeding according to the skills rubric, give an anecdote of why they chose this skill and a plan to improve it (Resource C and #4 and 5)
  4. The instructor provides feedback (#9, 10, 11, and 12)
  5. After 4-5 skills are assessed students provide a 200-word reflection on how successfully they’re accomplishing their stated goals and improved skills. Students then select a mindset philosophy from Hamlet’s Blackberry (#11) and execute that philosophy.
  6. Mid-semester discussion of what insight and creativity are and how to foster them. Students should watch the BBC videos on insight (#8) or have a discussion on the different types of creativity (#1)
  7. Five-minute class (or lab) associative or creative thinking exercise relevant to class materials every other week thereafter, based on Standord d.school methods or others (Resource A)
  8. Post-test of innovative ability using Berkeley Innovation Index (Resource D and #6) and a SALG survey.

Dissemination Strategies

Teaching Notes

  • Understand the growth mindset by reading Dweck’s book and discussing what you are trying to achieve with your students.
  • I used Moodle as an online course management for students to provide the assessment of each skill. Students receive participation points as an incentive for watching the videos and doing all skill assessments.
  • Be sure to provide short encouraging feedback including your own anecdotes and places where they might find help (#9 ,10, 11, and 12).
  • Many associative thinking exercises allow students to practice their communication and connection skills (Resource A).

Resources & Materials

Outcomes and Significance


One of the hallmarks of a growth mindset is a resistance to failure. The Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at UC Berkeley developed an assessment inventory for determining if interventions stimulate someone’s innovative capacity (Resource D and #6). Within the inventory are well-documented questions to determine if someone has become more comfortable with failure and hence closer to a growth mindset.

I have employed this assessment to begin to validate the approach of having students reflect on their growth mindset skills and participate in associative training exercises. Preliminary data is described on a poster I presented at a conference (#13).

Postscript (10-2018):

I am still doing the mindset interventions!  A handful of the CHEM 115 students I taught 2 years ago are taking my biochemistry I class this term. 

Here is one of those students reflecting on a skill for growth mindset:

The skill that I am evaluating this week is self-compassion.  Although I’ve greatly improved this skill since taking CHEM115 two years ago, I’d say I’m still in the developing stage.  I used to be very critical of myself.  For instance, if I didn’t understand a question while working on homework or an exam, my immediate thought was, “the reason why I don’t understand this question is because I’m not smart enough.”

When I would get a question wrong, I would feel embarrassed.  Since working on this skill, my first thought when I don’t understand a question is often not, “I’m not smart enough.”  Instead, I do my best to think, “this is a tricky question, but I can totally figure this out.  I’m not stupid.”

Sometimes I still feel embarrassed when I get a question wrong, especially when I answer a question incorrectly during class in front of my peers.  However, I’ve recently realized that I learn best by making lots of mistakes.  Thus, I’m continuing to work on seeing my mistakes as the best possible learning opportunities.”

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