Teaching with the Next Generation
Science Standards

Posted by Francis Vigeant on Nov 30, 2016

Grit is a Culture

Grit is a culture that as teachers we can create in our classrooms. As educators or administrators, it's a culture that we can create in our schools and districts. If that grit is truly a culture that permeates your buildings and district, it will instill a set of values that imbues classrooms at all grade levels, is shared by janitors and secretaries, and informs the school's entire approach to education. A culture of grit is a culture that supports determination and direction, passion and that perseverance. You'll find that if you value these ideals, your team will become self-aware and will begin to support itself and its members in excellent STEM teaching.

It takes leadership to get there, of course, just like it takes a teacher as the leader in the classroom to get students to develop those skills. Very few communities are lucky enough to have a gritty culture to start with. If you want to develop that gritty culture, you need to be the leader, whether you're a teacher, a principal, or a superintendent. You need to be the voice and pull those values together, make those values visible, and reward those values. You must clap for people when they exhibit those values and find ways of strengthening them and making them even more visible. Through that process, you'll see that people who don't have grit—those who don't value your team's values—are going to disappear by their own choice. Or they will fall in line and develop grit because that's the only choice that remains for them.

The good news is that when people who value passion and perseverance come to join your community, they will find your culture of grit exciting. Others might find the culture intimidating, in which case—again—they will not last very long in that culture. Those people won't necessarily add that much to the culture anyway.

We need that grit in our classrooms. Think about Olympic athletes who have to push themselves beyond their skill area every single day in order to achieve their fantastic results. There might be some innate advantage at work—some anatomical distinction that makes it a little easier for them to succeed—but if they didn't practice, that advantage would go undeveloped. In order to succeed, they must train, push, and constantly seek challenge beyond their skill level. That is exactly the kind of thinking that we need to instill in students through teaching STEM.

How to Measure Grit

Many people are interested in knowing the signs of grittiness or if they themselves are gritty people. If you want to specifically know about yourself, you can check out Angela Duckworth's book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance or head to simonandschuster.com, where you can find quizzes.

More broadly, there are many signs pointing to grittiness, and these are important to prioritize if you're hoping as a teacher to create a gritty classroom environment. These include, but aren't limited to:

  • Not giving up easily
  • Not getting discouraged by setbacks
  • Working hard
  • Setting goals and sticking to them
  • Resisting the temptation to hop from goal to goal

Passion gets many people started, after all, but perseverance is what enables people to accomplish difficult goals in the long run, and that purpose often stems from purpose more than it does from passion. Purpose is deeper than passion, which can be fleeting at times. But in somebody who is really gritty, that purpose endures. As you engage in something for a long time, you do so with both passion and purpose… but purpose still often trumps passion. This is just a single example. There are other measures of grit, which you can check out through Duckworth's assessments.

At the end of the day, creating a classroom environment that aligns to the expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards is challenging, but it is very feasible for teachers who themselves possess grit. It requires understanding how higher order thinking relates to grit in science education, seeing a clear link between student effort and student success, and purposefully designing curriculum in ways that constantly challenge students to seek beyond their current skill level. It also requires that we see when students have slipped back into a place of comfort, and that we design new challenges to help them move back into a place of growth.

STEM education

 Luckily, if you're a teacher or administrator who is daunted by the prospect of designing curriculum that accomplishes this while scaffolding from lesson to lesson, month to month, and year to year, you can find NGSS-aligned curriculum here at KnowAtom. Whichever course you take, however, it's crucial that you give students that opportunity for growth in everything you do.

At the end of the day, if we want to produce students who are able to solve tough problems like scientists and engineers do every day, grit is key. Scientists and engineers face setbacks on a daily basis, and persevering in the face of such mistakes and failures is crucial. In any field, in any career, in any institution of higher learning, students will need the ability to stick to goals even when the going gets rough, and designing classrooms that encourage this ability is one of the greatest gifts we can give students. It starts with grit and rigor.

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