Designing Curriculum to Instill Grit in Students

From the outset of curriculum design, we must keep in mind the role of educators in instilling grit in students. To do this, we need to create purposeful instruction and arrange the classroom environment so that it encourages growth at all times. We must also understand how to measure grit so that we know when we're seeing it and when we need to move students back to that place of rigor.

How Can Educators Encourage Grit?

NGSS performance expectation

Each performance expectation breaks down how students will use science and engineering practices, what content they will encounter, and how the crosscutting concepts tie in.

The Next Generation Science Standards set us up well for grit because they are specifically designed to encourage rigor. That's why we have three dimensions as well as the science and engineering practices—the skills. Each performance expectation, which you can see in the image above, describes how the practices will be used, which concepts will be covered, and which crosscutting concepts—phenomena that apply to a range of subjects and scenarios—they will observe while performing this expectation.

If you look at this particular standard—"Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment"—it is easy to take a traditional approach and break each of these components down into a vocabulary word. You might then explain this idea to students, show them how to make a food chain, then ask them to make a food chain themselves. But this is mistaking the standards for curriculum, turning a performance expectation into a set of activities that doesn't allow students to engage with content on their own, and certainly doesn't encourage grit.

Instead, the performance expectation is laid out in three dimensions on purpose. When developing a curriculum, you need to understand those standards and use them as the basis for the curriculum, not as the curriculum. This curriculum shouldn't exist just at the team or school level, but at the district level. The curriculum should support teachers and provide background so they can teach it successfully.

Connecting standards to evidence statements

Standards connect to evidence statements through district curriculum, from which flow student experiences and student learning, and culminating in evidence of learning.

In the next generation model of STEM education, the district curriculum should be built on the standard and define the student experience. Student learning will flow through the student experience and culminate with evidence of learning… which we have once students can successfully perform the expectation.

Note that student learning only comes from student experience. This is where the opportunity for challenge lies, and it is also where you find opportunity for growth. Out of that is where we see evidence of learning, which ties back to the standards because of the way they are designed to align with the evidence statements.

Evidence statements

The Next Generation Science Standards are designed as performance expectations reflected in 3 dimensions, as you can see from how this evidence statement is broken down.

In the above image, you can see what evidence statements look like. We can give students a scenario, and they can take their skills and their knowledge and answer questions related to that scenario by analyzing, evaluating, and creating their own explanations. Those explanations stem from their analysis and reasoning, which enable them to prove that they can develop a model to describe the phenomena they observe. In this case, that includes the movement of matter within an ecosystem. They will have already applied the concepts of matter, plants, animals, and decomposers in the environment, and they will be describing the relationships between them—e.g. relationships between animals that consume other animals, animals that consume plants, and so on.

In order to meet that evidence expectation, they must be able to use that model to describe not only how matter flows through the environment, but also how energy flows, and how each of these organisms in that environment are connected through food chains and food webs. The curriculum supports the educator in creating a space for an experience where student learning takes place and in which students develop proficiency and produce evidence of their learning. It comes full circle when we think about that evidence as being directly tied to the expectations of the standards themselves.

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