Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2016

Mindsets Learning

Basic design limits project-based learning tool for middle school math

Subjects & skills
  • Math

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Challenges connect age-appropriate, kid-friendly concerns like cafeteria menus and sneaker prices to standards-aligned concepts.

Cons: Bare-bones features won't provoke deeply engaging project-based learning experiences.

Bottom Line: An interesting but limited starting point for project-based learning activities in the middle school math classroom.

Browse the Mindsets Learning challenges to see where they might plug into your existing middle school math curriculum. These challenges are built to fill one 45-minute class period, so consider which ones might fit your needs. Also, check out the polling and short-answer question features: If you're interested in having your students create a poll around a real-life issue in your school or your community, consider using this tool to scaffold that project. 

Keep in mind, though, that Mindsets Learning's challenges can have pretty tenuous connections to standards. Look closely to ensure that the activities require students to dive sufficiently deeply into the content in your scope and sequence.

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Mindsets Learning is a series of real-world math challenges for middle school classrooms. Teachers and students can choose a challenge and then move through several steps to answer short-answer questions and use Common Core Standards-aligned math skills to analyze information. Thus far, three challenges are available -- Concert Apparel, Food Frenzy and Errors, and Price for Kicks -- each of which involves ratios and proportions and are available for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade classrooms. Teachers can also create their own challenges to share with their students.

Mindsets Learning is free for teachers, and you can create a free account or log in with a Facebook, Google, or Microsoft account. There's a downloadable PDF with information about getting started. A detailed FAQ talks about how to use the site and about its forthcoming additional challenges and features. Teachers can create a class code and share it with their students, and teachers can use their dashboards to browse the challenge library, create their own challenges, and monitor their students' progress. 

Mindsets Learning's developers indicate that they created their tool to give teachers a ready-to-use template for a 45-minute class period. In that regard, these challenges succeed: There are some neat ideas here, and a dash of creativity in a well-managed classroom could make these activities go a long way. The polling feature looks especially slick as students build their polls and survey other students. The feature for creating your own challenge is appealing, too. This might be a nice fit for teachers who are looking for a tool to structure a series of related tasks for their students.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of functionality baked directly into the site: The challenges aren't especially demanding, and there's more guidance needed for how students should best use some of the features (such as polling their classmates in a school without 1-to-1 devices or researching realistic sneaker prices online). Additionally, Mindsets Learning was previously a site geared toward creating new business ideas, and some of the language from the site's previous incarnation ("create an idea") is inconsistent with the prompts in the challenges ("List 5 popular shoes"). Still, some of the steps are ultimately asking students to create online polls and then answer short-answer questions, both of which could be done using another survey tool such as Google Forms. Overall, Mindsets Learning is worth a look for some interesting real-world, problem-solving tasks for the middle school math classroom, but it'll be most engaging in the hands of an inventive and energetic teacher.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The scenarios are kid-friendly and fairly relevant, but the site itself isn't especially engaging and won't likely hold students' interest without teacher guidance.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

It's admirable that the subject matter is geared toward students' interests, but the challenges feel more like computer-based word problems than like transformative project-based learning.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The challenges' step-by-step instructions are a little dry, but they're very easy for students to use. The site features a useful FAQ and a downloadable one-pager that orients teachers toward the available content. 

Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

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