Maths and puppets go hand-in-hand at St Bernadette's

Marianne Savage, the head teacher of St Bernadette’s Primary School in Falkirk, has been encouraging the use of conceptual maths and even puppets to promote growth mindset learning in class.

She started by introducing growth mindset gradually across her school and is involved in promoting mindset work across her local cluster schools.

She has seen pupils gradually adapt and enjoy an increase in their confidence and willingness to challenge themselves. 


Marianne began to investigate growth mindset to address dips she noticed in her school’s maths attainment, in particular from P5 upwards. Teachers were given training on growth mindset but given freedom about whether to introduce anything new to their classes:

"Although they’d all had the same staff development input, I’d left it up to them to individually say how they were going to take it forward. So we just kept it really small scale to begin with."

Following a session sharing ideas at the May in-service day all staff came on board, every class, due to the testimony and ideas from colleagues.

Some chose the ‘learning pit’ to start with.

"One of our Primary Two children, half way through a lesson just stood up one day and said, ‘I know I’m in the pit! I’m in the pit!’ It was good that he could recognise it."

Other classes used a ‘challenge-o-meter’ for children to self-assess, initially on a central display and now in their jotters. Some classes have introduced Number Talks, which focus on process rather than correct answers, and it has been noticed that the children’s mathematical language and confidence has improved:

"We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of children who are willing to try, to challenge themselves."

Permeation across learning

After establishing new practices in maths and seeing successes, the growth mindset concepts were taught to children as a discrete subject and used across the curriculum in classes.

Networking with previous students of the champions course introduced Marianne to the idea of using puppets to emphasise growth mindset concepts to younger children. A few sets have been purchased for use in nursery and primary one to three classes. The characters will be named by the whole school and used in class to encourage and notice growth mindset behaviour.

The upper school have been working on comics in literacy and it is planned that they will develop the characters of the puppets and put them into stories in comic form. The comic(s) will be professionally produced and the product used to introduce new children to the characters. The process of creating the stories will require a deepening understanding of the importance of mindset, thus impacting the authoring classes also.

Across learning staff are noticing children adopting a growth mindset approach.

"They’re picking up on a lot of the language and they’re actually saying it to each other, “you’re in the pit but you’ll get out”, helping each other."

While it is too soon to state the impact on attainment, Marianne is sure that change is happening:

"We really do feel there is an improvement in the willingness to try, whereas before there was that sort of anxiety and the barrier was up straight away."


Marianne has initiated a cluster-wide growth mindset group, with representatives from all seven primary schools in the cluster, and teachers from a few departments of the high school. Introducing growth mindset is part of their cluster improvement plan.

The group meets termly to share what has been happening in individual schools, good practice ideas for implementing mindset, and any readings that individuals have found useful. All schools are at the beginning of their growth mindset journeys, and the focus has been on within-school developments. Next year the group plans to increase this scope and consider how to involve parents.

On having access to the Winning Scotland Foundations's 'Mindset Champions' course, Marianne said:

"I would recommend the course. It’s a good starting base. … If you’re interested in thinking about growth mindset it is widening, looking at different opportunities. It gives you that structure on how to start it. … It is good that it went on to a project, ‘how are you going to take it forward’, and gives good ideas for that."

Marianne's story was also featured in The Herald, read the full article here.