Robinson High School

Collaborative Competition and its Effect on Student Motivation and Ownership

Primary Researchers

Hannah Corley, Intern, Baylor University

Allison Garrett, BSed, Mentor Teacher, Robinson High School, RISD

Ashleigh Maldonado, PhD Candidate, Intern Supervisor, Baylor University



Initially, what began to hold my attention was recognizing a lack of motivation and drive are negatively impacting the classroom environment and student desire to be successful. I have noticed within my own classroom during my time as an Intern how motivation and classroom environment are closely related. This has come to light through submission rates of assignments, quality of completion, application of content knowledge, participation within the class period, etc. My action research seeks to identify if incorporating collaborative competition, apart from grade point average and class rank titles, positively or negatively affects student motivation and ownership within the classroom. 


How does implementing group competition improve and/or affect student motivation within an English II classroom?


I decided to further analyze my wondering with my students (all periods of E2) to see how integrating group competition affects student motivation across multiple periods consisting of different group dynamics. I am aware that what works for one class may not work for another; however, I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the impact this can have and the benefits continuing this thought process may have on the rest of the year based on these results. I used a few types of research to gather data to analyze the positive or negative implications of integrating group competition into the classroom environment. First, I took three separate surveys of my students. The surveys were free response and anonymous to remove any bias or pressure students may feel to respond in a certain way. 

This was the baseline on which my wondering was founded - students first responded to a survey asking, “What motivates you?”. I realized that students feel motivated by wanting to be accepted, inherently competitive, or desire to be successful. This led me to start thinking of ways to better create an inclusive atmosphere where students felt supported and spurred on to excellence because they knew they were accepted by myself and their peers within our classroom. Noticing that another large percentage of students stated they were motivated by success/winning or competition, I began thinking of ways to marry the two to best engage students to produce promising and memorable experiences with lessons. The second survey students answered was, “What do you like about our classroom environment?” This better enabled me to reflect and see areas that can be grown in to better enhance the learning experience for students and continue to incorporate things that students found successful. This survey was taken about halfway through my data tracking and the majority explained they appreciated and valued the incorporation of group competition and team play as a form of accountability, ways to better know their classmates, and make learning more fun as it included another purpose behind it. The major way small group student-based competition was implemented into class was through the creation of a house system. In each period there were five different houses represented similar to the Hogwarts houses. In presenting these houses to students, they discovered the mythical background from which each house stemmed, character qualities members of each house embody, and their unified mascot which is reflective of the values that house holds. After discussing the makeup of each house, students spun an “all knowing” wheel that would place them in the house they were meant to be in just like the sorting hat in Harry Potter. As the semester continued, students began to embody the qualities of the house they were a part of. Finally, students were surveyed through a reflection on what they liked and what was helpful about the implementation of the group competition specifically in class. This allowed me to see the effects of incorporating strategic student group competition from the student perspective to consider other changes and tweaks that could be made to better the learning experience for my students.

In addition to taking student surveys, I also collected data through observing each period and the how the students behaved as student competition was slowly incorporated into the classroom environment. I tracked how engaged they were in conversation, their positive or negative increase in attitude towards class and the activities for that day, as well as how their leadership abilities and how that correlate to class increased or decreased. I found it extremely interesting to look through the data collected and see progression and development of student abilities as behavior-based competition became regularly implemented into class. As well as observational data taken, I also tracked the student competitions through an app called “Our Home.” This app enabled me to create five small groups to fit four to six students per group in each period. In each of these teams, students would work together to complete tasks that would ultimately allow them to be more engaged with the lesson for that day. Some examples of points that could be earned are word of the day connections, quickest transition, gaining student of the week from your team, etc. Students can also lose points by the following: peer put down, extra sass, excuses, etc. This truly transformed the accountability and motivational aspect of our students as they began to develop relations with their teammates, were being held accountable, and were regularly working through the material with their peers rather than on their own. 


In reflecting on the data and the implementation of student small group competition through the house system in the classroom, I think there should have been more instances of independent work to get a stark contrast of the positive and negative effects of incorporating something like competition rather than focusing in on the study and isolating the results. In addition, I see how not every student is going to prefer small group work and may appreciate being offered to work independently, so, moving forward, I would need to seek how to better include and rotate those choices and balance into an everyday schedule. I also have seen the benefit of disassociating the points awarded from their actual grade but rather reward points for behavior, work ethic, and leadership skills. For example, students developed pride and a sense of belonging in these house teams. They created flags and waved them in the hallways during passing periods and created shirts for their team to wear on certain days of the week. Repeatedly they held members of their house accountable for the words they say ensuring that it is positive and uplifting as well as submission rates. Focusing on these skills through competition has better transformed our classroom environment thus creating a safer atmosphere for students to explore their thoughts, express their ideas, and ask hard questions.



The Effect of Growth Mindset Instruction on Algebra 1 Students’ Attitudes toward Mathematics

Primary Researchers

Allison Larson, Intern, Baylor University

Michelle Ruddell, M.S. Ed., Mentor Teacher, Robinson High School, Robinson ISD

Melissa Donham, M.A., Intern Supervisor, Baylor University



The researcher noticed students tended to enter class with comments about failure in mathematics. These statements often did not reflect their past performance or future potential. The students’ defeatist attitudes created cause for concern. Previous studies conducted by Zhu et al. (2019) and Yeager et al. (2019) suggested ninth graders who participated in an online intervention about growth mindsets experienced a shift toward more positive inclinations toward academics. Thus, the researcher planned and executed a study in which short lessons and re-direction were implemented in an Algebra 1 class of 21 students to see the effect on student attitudes.


In what ways does implementing growth mindset instruction alter Algebra 1 students’ attitudes toward mathematics?


The participants of this study were 21 ninth and tenth grade students in Algebra 1. The students consisted of 15 females and six males. Caucasian students held 2/3 the majority, while four students were Hispanic, one student was Black, and one student was Asian. The study was conducted in a ninth period mathematics class at the end of the day. The study collected data in three modalities over the course of three weeks. To commence and conclude the study, the participants completed the Aiken Math Attitudes Survey (Aiken, 1974) as a pre- and post-survey through a Google Form to see if there were any changes amongst the students’ attitudes. In the middle of the study, the participants were given an entry and exit ticket on a test day about their confidence and feelings. For confidence, the students circled a number. For feeling, the students circled an emoji and then described the reason behind the emoji. After the test, some of the students were interviewed about their views on mathematics. This anecdotal data provides deeper insight into what forms the students’ attitudes toward mathematics. Student confidence and feeling both contribute to one’s attitude, especially on a test day. Collecting data before and after a test gives insight into how the mathematics may affect one’s attitude throughout the course of 45 minutes. The anecdotal data combined with the test day data and the surveys can give a more complete picture of students’ attitudes.

The growth mindset instruction began after the pre-survey with a portion of a video from Fullerton College (2017). Then, the key points were re-capped by the researcher afterwards. Several days after showing the students the video, the teacher led the students through an activity to remind students their brains grow when mistakes are made (Boaler, 2016). The rest of the instruction took place in response to student comments. These responses took the form of reminders about the value of mistakes and sharing growth mindset statements. Interrupting student talk about failure immediately and reminding students that they need to have an open mindset to learning occurred most frequently.

The results of the study show the students’ attitudes toward mathematics moved in the positive direction after growth mindset instruction. To analyze the survey data, the survey responses were translated into a scale of one to five. The survey questions belong to one of two categories: negative skew or positive skew. The negative skew questions involve a statement where strongly agree indicates a negative attitude. The positive skew questions involve a statement where strongly agree indicates a positive attitude. The data was then used to create mean scores to be compared between the pre-survey and post-survey. The entry and exit tickets had two components: confidence and feeling. The data given by these tickets included numbers on a scale from one to ten for confidence, where one is the least confident. The feeling portion involved emojis and student writing. Emojis were used to further prompt students since they are used to expressing themselves in that manner. Some ambiguity with meanings of emojis exists, so the written portion was to clarify the student’s choice. For analysis, the emojis were shifted into a numerical scale. The anecdotal data from the student interviews was compared to the other two data sources of the surveys and tickets. This allowed the researcher to understand the student viewpoints deeper and test the validity of the other data sources.

Students’ attitudes towards mathematics changed throughout this study. The data shows a slight increase in the majority of students’ survey scores, which lines up with the data from the entry and exit tickets. From interviewing seven students, three of the students shared that they like mathematics when they understand it. Thus, when they have confidence in their ability to solve problems, they enjoy mathematics. When looking at the explanations of emoji choices for the students’ who improved feeling towards mathematics, over half the responses mentioned how they did better than they thought they would. In other words, they felt better because they understood more than they once thought, also improving confidence. Instructing students on the growth mindset positively impacted student attitudes toward mathematics.


The study shows a slight improvement in the majority of students’ attitudes toward mathematics after a three-week period of implementing instruction on growth mindsets. Approximately 71% of the students who completed the surveys reported a more positive stance about mathematics. This amelioration of student attitudes is supported by previous studies analyzed by Zhu et al. (2019) and Yeager et al.(2019). They found students benefitted positively through acceptance of challenges and higher grades after training on growth mindsets. Though this study looked at student attitudes, the results found an overall change in the positive direction. Similarly, previous studies found students’ engagement in challenges increased along with grades and other factors. The results of prior studies and this study show growth mindset instruction positively affects students in a myriad of ways. 

The strengths of this study include the engagement of students and the administration of data collection. The students participated in all the instructional activities, especially the paper activity (Boaler, 2016). The data collection was easily incorporated into lessons without disruption of the daily routine since the surveys took students less than five minutes to complete and the entry and exit tickets were even less. A weakness of the study was the small sample size. The class had 21 students on the roster, however, due to absences and students not completing both parts necessary for data analysis, the sample size decreased to about 15 students. Also, the study occurred during the last period of the day, and many students came straight from athletics. Instruction may not have the same effect as it could have in an earlier period as many of the students were already checked out mentally. 

Future studies could enlarge the sample size to include more periods throughout the day and utilize a larger research window. A timespan longer than three weeks would allow researchers to see the changes within student attitudes more accurately. Researchers could also dive into the effects of students’ attitudes towards mathematics on their performance in mathematics class. This study focused purely on their attitude, but as evident in the student interviews, student performance affects their feelings toward mathematics. This connection can provide further insight into how teachers can best support students.


Aiken, L.R. (1974). Two scales of attitude toward mathematics. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education5(2), 67-71.

Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical mindsets: Unleashing students’ potential through creative math, inspiring messages and innovative teaching. Jossey-Bass.

Fullerton College. (2017, April 7). Pathway transformation initiative – growth mindset [video]. YouTube.

Yeager, D. S., Hanselman, P., Walton, G. M., et al. (2019). A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement. Nature, 576, 364-369.

Zhu, P., Garcia, I., Boxer, K., Wadhera, S., Alonzo, E. (2019). Using a growth mindset intervention to help ninth-graders: An independent evaluation of the national study of learning mindsets. MDRC, 1-19.