Humanizing brilliant scientists by highlighting their struggles and failures in addition to their world-changing successes helps engage students while learning about science, a new study suggests, and has the educational toy experts at Click-A-Brick calling the idea itself brilliant.
Jason Smith and Georg de Gorostiza, Co-Founders of Click-A-Brick, which just released its newest 30-piece educational toy set Bug’s Life, say presenting a more balanced approach to teaching kids about science is a brilliant idea.
“Even as adults, we sometimes forget that successful people, whether athletes, musicians, scientists, business people or whatever, have endured hardship and outright failure before becoming successful,” Smith said. “Kids see these superstars of the science world and without any context about what they went through to make their discoveries and come up with their revolutionary theories, it’s easy for kids to believe that success just came easily to them without that process of making mistakes and having to endure unbelievably harsh circumstances. There is such a push to teach science, technology, engineering and math skills, but while we’re teaching kids these important skills, we also need to look at how we’re teaching them. Making these rock star scientists more relatable is a good start.”
For the study, Columbia University researchers divided 402 students in Grades 9 and 10 into two groups. The students came from four different high schools with predominantly low-income students in the Bronx and Harlem areas of New York City. At the beginning of a six-week grading period, half of the students involved in the study were tasked with reading a passage of a science book that detailed major scientific discoveries of famous scientists like Albert Einstein and Marie Curie while the other half read a passage detailing the personal struggles and failures of the famous scientists like Einstein having to flee from Nazi Germany and Curie’s multiple letdowns in the laboratory while making her groundbreaking discoveries.
At the end of the six-week period, researchers looked at grade trends and found students who read about the personal struggles and failures of the scientists showed grade improvement, with the biggest improvements shown among the students who had struggled the most. As detailed in the Journal of Educational Psychology, student grades in the other group dropped slightly, suggesting an overly positive representation of scientific success may have a negative effect.
"When kids think Einstein is a genius who is different from everyone else, then they believe they will never measure up," associate professor of cognitive studies at Columbia University's Teachers College and lead researcher Xiaodong Lin-Siegler, said in a press release. "Many students don't realize that all successes require a long journey with many failures along the way. Many kids don't see science as part of their everyday lives. We teach them important content, but we never bring it to life. Our science curriculum is impersonal, and kids have a hard time relating to it because they just see a long list of facts that they have to memorize."
The researcher suggests science books should present a more balanced narrative of scientific successes and failures in order to bring larger-than-life scientific figures down to size, making the work of Einstein and others more relatable.
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