Dave Grohl’s Play, the Brain, and the Growth Mindset

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Essential Question

How does Dave Grohl exhibit a “growth mindset,” in what ways can we apply a similar mindset to our lives, and how will it affect our brains?

Overview

To some, Dave Grohl is the drummer from the groundbreaking Seattle Grunge band Nirvana. Other music fans likely know him as the guitarist, vocalist, frontman, and songwriter of the arena-filling band, Foo Fighters. Still others that have seen Grohl on the HBO series Sonic Highways or the documentary Sound City may recognize him as a music historian and film director. The truth is that Dave Grohl is all of the above.

As a musician who has relished challenges and pursued continual creative progress, Dave Grohl is a living example of the positive outcomes possible to one who embraces what psychologist Carol Dweck named the “growth mindset.” Dweck suggests, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work–brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

In this lesson, students will explore the growth mindset and the science of how our brains process and store experiences. Students will engage these topics through clips from Play that present both the expert who still struggles at times–Grohl–and beginners, middle school musicians that are just embarking on a musical journey. They’ll conclude with one of the several included growth mindset activities that encourage them to embrace challenges as rewarding, and can continue beyond the class period by choosing one of this lesson’s extension activities.

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Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • About the cerebral cortex, neurons, dendrites, axons, and their roles in the brain
    • Basic science of how the brain processes new experiences
    • About the growth mindset and how they can apply it to their lives
    • About the career of musician Dave Grohl
  2. Mastery Objective:
    • Students will be able to explain the difference between a fixed and growth mindset through analysis of performance clips of professional musician Dave Grohl, a review of the psychology behind both viewpoints, and interviews with middle school students.

Activities

Motivational Activity:

  1. Use a whiparound technique to quickly have each student in the classroom name something they love doing and/or feel they are good at. Then ask:
    • Do you think you could ever “master” this activity? If so, how will you know when you have mastered it? If not, in what ways do you think you might continually improve?
    • Do you think there are any things you might not be able to learn? Why? What do you think is stopping you?

Procedure:

  1. Play Clip 1, “The Studio Playground,” and then ask:
    • Do you think Dave Grohl considers himself a “master” musician? Why or why not?
    • How might you characterize Grohl’s approach to taking on music projects? Does it seem like he is content to stick with things that have already worked for him?
  2. Play Clip 2, “Mistakes and Progress,” then ask:
    • In what ways do you think “failures” might be an opportunity to grow?
    • Julie and Jolie both express that on some level, “music is hard,” that learning to play music takes time and energy. What do you think might make them want to pursue music anyway?
    • Whether it is music, a sport, or some other challenge, what do you think some of  the benefits of working on something that doesn’t come easily might be?
  3. Distribute Handout 1 – Your Malleable Brain and the Growth Mindset, read it aloud as a class, then ask:
    • What do you think practicing something like a guitar riff, a jump shot, or crocheting might do for your neurons?
    • In what ways do you think a growth mindset might change your brain?
  4. Display Image 1, Growth Mindset Graphic by Nigel Holmes. Talk through the various categories presented, and then ask:
    • In what ways do you think having a fixed mindset might affect your life? (Encourage students to explore the meaning of “a deterministic view of the world” and explore any of the categories presented in the depth appropriate for your classroom.)
    • In what ways might a growth mindset might affect your life? (Encourage students to consider the possibilities of remaining open to experiences and trying things.)
    • Can you think of any time in life you’ve tried something you didn’t think you’d like and then enjoyed it?
  5. Distribute Handout 2 – Dave Grohl’s Growth Mindset Have students read the handout to themselves, highlighting or underlining moments and actions they think might represent a growth mindset. Then have students share out and discuss those moments as a class.
  6. Play Clip 3, “I Knew That I Could Do It Better,” then ask:
    • What are some of the things the middle schoolers we’ve seen here might have in common with Dave Grohl?
    • How might “Play” represent Grohl’s lifelong embrace of the growth mindset?

Summary Activity:

  1. Play Clip 4, “Middle School Sucks,” and ask students:
    • In what ways does the growth mindset help this girl feel happy in a time that might otherwise be hard for her?
    • In what ways might you embrace the growth mindset in your life?
  2. The Growth Mindset Activity Challenge. Choose one of the activities below that best fits your students and classroom. All are fun ways to quickly embrace the challenge of the growth mindset
    • Have students create an art piece using their weak hands
    • Have students compose a paragraph writing with their weak hands
    • Have students compose a short original story that begins with its conclusion
    • Have students switch instruments and play a song
    • Read one of the included handouts with the paper upside down
    • Walk backwards through the classroom

Extension Activity:

  1. Consult the neural diagram in Handout 1. Research the labeled parts of a neuron that the lesson did not discuss. Write a few paragraphs that describe the functionality and purpose of those parts of a neuron.
  2. Brush your teeth with your weak hand every day for a week. After each attempt, write a few notes about the process–was it hard? Did you bang your gums? At the end of the week, write a summary of the effort. Did it get easier? How so? In what ways do you think brushing with your weak hand might be like other tasks you could learn to do? How do you think this project might have affected your brain?
  3. Write a song or learn a song on every instrument used in that song. Then, in a few paragraphs, detail the challenges of that process and what you think you might have learned from it. Did playing a song on a new instrument change your perspective of the instrument you usually play?
  4. Animals have neurons too. Research how the brains of dogs and cats have changed as they’ve gone from being wild to domestic pets. In what ways might we as humans be susceptible to similar changes? Include at least one example of how we might shrink our brains, and provide at least one example of how you might keep that from happening.

Standards

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading (K-12)

Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Reading 6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Reading 8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Reading 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing (K-12)

Writing 9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening (K-12)

Speaking and Listening 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Speaking and Listening 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading (K-12)

Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Reading 6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Reading 8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Reading 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing (K-12)

Writing 9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening (K-12)

Speaking and Listening 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Speaking and Listening 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

National Core Arts Standards

Responding

  • Anchor Standard #7-Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard #8-Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard #9– Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change

National Standards for Music Education – National Association for Music Education (NAfME)

Core Music Standard: Responding

  • Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
  • Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’ and/or performers’ expressive intent.
  • Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.

Core Music Standard: Connecting

  • Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.