Professional Development Script

I’d like to tell you a little about Mind Missions—The What, Why, and How of Mind Missions. When you walk away from this session, you will know why people are choosing Mind Missions in more and more schools and how to use the Mind Missions learning system effectively in your classroom.


What is a Mind Mission?

A Mind Mission is an integrated Language Arts-Social Studies lesson designed to teach historical content and creative problem solving. Students begin Mind Missions by teaming up and completing a brainstorming exercise. Then, they read a passage about challenges that people have faced throughout history and in their communities today. Then, students work in teams to creatively solve related problems. Teams present their solutions and evaluate their mission success using a scoring rubric. Finally, students reflect and write about their learning – both content and skills.


Why would you use a Mind Mission?

(Slide 2)

Take a minute to reflect on these questions.

Reflection questions:

1.What will the world be like 30 years from now?

2.What skills will students need to be successful in that world?

3.What would learning look like if it was designed around your answers?

(Slide 3)

Just think of the last 40 years…

We have seen the development of the personal computer (Apple II in 1977), the internet (1983 ARPA net), the sequencing of the human genome (2003), and GPS (1983 to the public). I-phones were developed only 12 years ago! These inventions have transformed the way that we communicate and work. What will the next 40 years bring?

Children entering kindergarten this year will spend their educational and professional careers during an exciting period of complex and exponential change. We cannot foresee the innovations in technology, science, medicine and communication that they will experience. We cannot envision the changes that they will encounter or the challenges that they will face. We cannot possibly teach them all that they will need to know because we don’t know what they will need to know!

(Slide 4)

Did you know?

  • According to former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, the top ten jobs in demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004.
  • The U.S. Department of Education estimates that today’s learner will have 10-14 jobs by the time they are 38 years old.
  • The amount of new technical information is doubling every 2 years. For students starting a technical degree, 1/2 of what they learn will be out of date by their third year of study.

(Slide 5)

Perhaps most importantly for educators, we must recognize that the value of knowledge itself has changed.In the past, the acquisition of knowledge was requisite to professional success because access to knowledge was limited. That is why people paid for college! They went to college to fill their heads with information that few knew. The value of an education was the access to knowledge itself.  

Then, the information age came.

Knowledge is widely available today- as free and available as the air we breathe for most Americans. To find something out, you don’t drive to the library and work through the stacks.  You google it.

(Slide 6)

Tony Wagner captured this enormous shift when he said, “How much you know is no longer a competitive advantage. The world no longer cares how much you know.  What the world cares about is what you can DO with what you know. It’s about skill and will.”

As teachers in a changing world, our job has changed. We need to teach them important skills that they will need to solve problems and handle new challenges- 21stcentury skills. So what are they?

(Slide 7)

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is a national organization that advocates for 21st century readiness for every student. This group defines 21stcentury learning as a system that connects the three Rs (or content instruction) to the four C’s of learning and innovation skills (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation).

(Slide 8)

Critical Thinking

The first critical competency for the 21stcentury is Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. Teaching problem solving is invaluable to children’s learning, confidence, and independence. Problem solving isn’t just common sense -students need to be taught concrete steps to master the skill. Students need to be taught how to identify problems, generate ideas for solutions, and courageously tackle the problem.

Although 57 % of employers indicate problem solving and critical thinking are “very important” to performance, 70% of employers report that graduates are deficient in these skills.

(Slide 9)

“The biggest challenge for our front-line employees is having the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills they need to be effective, because nobody is there telling them exactly what to do. They have to figure it out.” -Karen Brett, Dell Strategic Business Development

(Slide 10)

Reflect in a Think/Pair/Share- In your opinion, why are businesses reporting declining critical thinking skills? 

(Slide 11)


The Pew Research Center recently asked a national sample of adults to select the skills most important for students “to get ahead in the world today.”  Across the board, respondents said communication skills were most important.

(Slide 12)

Reflect in a Think/Pair/Share – What changes in the last 30 years have altered the ways we communicate?  How has this been positive? How has this been negative?

(Slide 13)


The United States Department of Labor reports that teamwork is a top skill to master for workplace success. Employers desire workers who can communicate effectively, value others’ thoughts and opinions, complete assigned tasks, and sacrifice self-interests for the best interest of the group.

(Slide 14)

What do we call collaboration in traditional classrooms? Cheating.

(Slide 15)


America is now facing the biggest challenge it’s ever faced—to maintain it’s position in the world economies. All these things demand high levels of innovation, creativity, and ingenuity. At the moment, instead of promoting creativity, I think we’re systematically educating it out of our kids.”  Sir Ken Robinson

(Slide 16)

 Ken Robinson made a compelling presentation at TED about the loss of creativity in our schools.  He highlighted a critical deficit in our schools today. The sad fact is that children come to school creative, thoughtful beings and they leave school with these capacities greatly diminished. A good measure for creativity is the ability to think divergently.  Divergent thinking is the skill of generating ideas without limits and is a necessary component of creativity and innovation. Robinson cited a long-term study of schools and their impact on divergent thinking ability. They gave a series of tests to 1,600 3-5 year olds.  By their measure, 98% scored at the genius level for divergent thinking.  They gave the same tests to the same children 5 years later.  Then 32 % of the children scored at the genius level for divergent thinking.  They repeated the same tests for the same children at the ages of 14-15.  Only 10% of the same children attained the genius level of divergent thought. 

It seems that school taught these children to find the one correct answer set before them and in the process, students lost the ability to devise multiple solutions, to think divergently and creatively. We must find ways to maintain divergent thinking abilities while teaching students to evaluate best solutions. They will need to think convergently and divergently to meet a variety of new challenges in a changing world.

(Slide 17)

There is one more critical skill for success in the 21stcentury not listed by the Partnership for 21stcentury learning. It is Confidence!

Contrary to popular opinion, confidence is not a personality trait. It isn’t something you are born with. Confidence grows when we successfully face challenges.  It requires risk, work, failure, and success.

(Slide 18)

Angela Duckworth presents an important argument for growth mindsets when approaching challenges. Our students need to see challenges as opportunities for personal growth, brain development, and learning!

Struggling builds character. Failure breeds wisdom and maturity. We need to fail and experience discomfort, and over time, build a track record of demonstrated success. We need safe places to fail and grow.

(Slide 19)

So we need to teach the 4 Cs (plus confidence) We need to instill these skills in our students?



(Slide 20)

Fortunately, we know a proven method- Creative Problem Solving.  Creative Problem Solving has been used for more than 60 years throughout the world with hundreds of published studies about its proven effectiveness and impact.


Unfortunately, it has been used almost exclusively with the gifted and talented population or in extra-curricular activities such as Destination Imagination and Olympics of the Mind.

However, Creative Problem solving is just what we need to teach all of our students critical 21stcentury skills. In Creative Problem Solving activities, students work together – COLLABORATION, they write and speak to one another as well as present information – COMMUNICATION, They solve a variety of problems with limited materials and time – CRITICAL THINKING. And they are forced to innovate CREATIVE solutions. They fail and try again which builds CONFIDENCE.

And Creative Problem Solving works for everyone.  In fact, in studies of Creative Problem Solving methods, the gains of average students who received Creative Problem Solving programs exceeded gains for those of “gifted” students in solution fluency, flexibility, and originality. Creative Problem Solving teaches 21stcentury skills. But how do you add these activities to an already jam-packed school day?

We need to align Creative Problem Solving activities with core content material- Social Studies and Language Arts

(Slide 21)

Why Social Studies?

It IS the STORY of people solving problems.

It IS the STORY of people working collaboratively and communicating.

It IS the STORY of creativity and perseverance!

Teaching the 4’s C’s through Social Studies provides real-world examples of people meeting challenges and innovating solutions! Teaching the 4 C’s through Mind Missions provides experience.

(Slide 22)

Mind Missions

Content and Skills

STEAM and Standards

Language Arts and Social Studies

You don’t have to choose. Mind Missions integrates all of these into powerful, easy-to-use lessons.


Sample Lesson

(Slides 23-25 are also images of the lesson)

Now it is time to try a Mind Missions lesson.  All Mind Missions lessons follow the same format.

First, teachers prepare for the lesson and Get Ready!

Each mission requires a few materials that will be used by the entire team. Some lessons require a few sheets of paper. Some require coffee filters, paper clips, or paper plates. All of the materials can be found at a variety of stores and are inexpensive. Depending upon the age of your students, you may fill the bags prior to the lesson or ask students to Materials Manager to fill the bag during the lesson. Getting Ready is also a great time to review Background Information for teachers provided with each Mind Missions lesson. You are ready to go!

When starting the lesson with your class, students will team up and warm up their minds with a divergent-thinking brainstorm exercise.

Next, students read The Story. Leveled non-fiction text passages are available for every Mind Missions lesson. The Story offers a real-world example of a Social Studies problem.

After The Story, students work together to complete a problem-solving challenge called the Mission.

Finally, students reflect on their skills and content learning through Reflection.

We will be doing a lesson in teams to illustrate Mind Missions learning. First, we need to get in groups of four.


Team up in a group of 4 and name your team.

One of the goals of Mind Missions learning is effective instruction in collaborative skills. Every Mind Missions learning system includes a bonus set of lessons in Team Work to prepare students to work with others. Mind Missions learning systems also include Role Cards that promote an effective division of labor and accountability as students learn collaborative skills. Through using these role cards in a variety of lessons, students practice a variety of essential roles while working in teams. There is a leader, materials manager, recorder/presenter, and timekeeper. Students rotate roles in different lessons. Every Mind Missions lesson concludes with Reflection prompts about teamwork skills. While thinking, reflecting, and writing, students grow in understanding about their own role in collaborative work.


The second step in a Mind Missions lesson is the Brainstorm. In teams, students work to generate as many answers as possible to a prompt related to the Mind Mission. Bonus lessons about Effective Brainstorming are included in the Mind Missions learning system to support as they work on divergent thinking skills. Brainstorm reminders teach students to generate a variety of responses instead of the single, correct answer. Now it is time for your team to Brainstorm! Name a recorder and get ready to write. In our lesson, you will have three minutes to generate as many solutions as possible to the prompt. Of course, you should modify times and methods of recording to best meet the needs of your particular group of students.

Your Brainstorm Prompt is “List things that you think are unfair.” Go!

(Give teams an appropriate amount of time to brainstorm. Call time. Have teams total their responses. The team with the largest number of responses wins the “Fluency prize.” If desired, have team call out their answers and remove common responses. The team with the most unique responses wins the “Creativity prize.”)


The next step in a Mind Missions lesson is The Story. You will choose the most appropriate delivery of The Story for your students. Some teachers read The Story during whole-group instruction. Others instruct students to read The Story in groups. Individual reading is also appropriate. Mind Missions stories are available in four different reading levels and Spanish to meet the needs of a variety of learners. Our Story today is about the Sons of Liberty. This is a United States history lesson intended for fifth grade students. All Stories are aligned with standards for Studies.

(Read the story in groups, individually, or in a whole group.)


The Story prepares the class for the Mission. Each mission is related to the content found in The Story. In this Mind Missions lesson, students learn that the Sons of Liberty signaled their meetings with a Liberty Pole. Students are challenged to build a new liberty pole when the British cut their meeting signal. The Mission is outlined on the Mission card. Read the Mission with your class. Then, turn the card over and read the Scoring rubric.

(Read the Mission and Scoring card)

(Pass out the Mind Missions bags.)

The next step is critical- planning time! Dump the materials on a desk or table. Do not touch the materials. Time to consider and discuss possibilities is an essential step for teams to develop strong solutions. Teams plan for five minutes without touching the materials.

(Time teams for five minutes)

After planning, teams will have 15 minutes to build their solution.

(Time teams for 15 minutes- give warnings when five and one minute remain.)

When time is up, it is time to evaluate mission completion using the Scoring Rubric. (Measure team towers and give a score to each team.) The Score is not meant to be a grade. It is simply a way to evaluate the success of the solution. We recommend that the highest score and most creative solution are recognized at the end of the Mission. You can use our materials to give a sticker to each team or simply give verbal recognition. Connecting a grade to the mission will stifle creativity and risk-taking. Teachers regularly report that students are intrinsically motivated to succeed at Mind Missions challenges. The extrinsic motivator of a Mission grade is counterproductive.


Instead of grading the Mission, we recommend that the last (and most critical) part of the Mind Mission lesson be given a grade. Learning comes not from doing, but from thinking about what we do. Every Mind Missions lesson includes six writing prompts that encourage students to reflect on the Mission, connections to Social Studies learning, and collaborative work. Reflection time gives the brain an opportunity to pause, sort, and consider observations and experiences so that it can create meaning. The meaning becomes deep and powerful learning.

(Slide 26)

Unlike a history lecture, Mind Missions learning is engaging! Researchers have also found that classrooms must be places where students do more than listen.  Studies showed that while instructors speak 100-200 words per minute, students only hear about 40. And they retain only 5% of the information that they hear.

Fortunately, retention and understanding increase as students actively engage with the information.  The more a student is required to use information, the deeper and longer their understanding will be. When students apply their knowledge to in depth processing of material by teaching others or engaging in problem solving, they retain as much as 90% of the learned material.

(Slide 27)

Biology supports the conclusions of researchers.  Learning is a complex process of brain construction and connection-building.  When a student learns something new, they construct a place for this knowledge in a network of brain cells.  If connections are made between this new knowledge and prior learning, the student will be much more able to recall and explain the new concept. Links between new information and prior understanding can only be created by the learner.  But as educators, we CAN support this construction by offering specific learning opportunities.

  • involving vivid multi-sensory experiences in learning
  • requiring the student to describe and solve a problem related to the topic
  • asking students to reflect on the information using higher order thinking skills

All of this research and science confirmed what we teachers knew all along. Active engagement is critical to lasting learning. The more engaged students are the more profound and enduring the learning will be.

(Slide 28)

Mind Missions was created in part to provide engaged and active learning opportunities for students. In Mind Missions, students deeply process new information in fun, innovative and challenging lessons. They connect with lessons from the past and build skills for the future.

Now let’s reflect!

How might students develop each of the following using Mind Mission lesson?

(Slide 29)

In your teams, discuss the potential development of each of the following.

Content skills? Social Studies and Language Arts

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Communication Skills

Collaboration Competence



Mind Missions learning is integrated learning to provide powerful instruction in content and skills for today and tomorrow. We hope you enjoy using Mind Missions in your classrooms.

(Slide 30)

Optional time to meet in teams to discuss best use of Mind Missions for their grade level


Teacher empowered by Professional Development Script

We hope this Professional Development Script empowered you to share Mind Missions with your colleagues. Have questions? Contact us!