What is Grit in Science? Determination + Direction

Updated on April 5th, 2024.

Grit is integral to the Next Generation Science Standards because STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—requires it.

According to Angela Duckworth, author of the 2016 book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, there are two components of grit: direction and determination.

Having direction means possessing a specific goal toward which you strive. Determination is perseverance, the willingness to hold steady to that goal. Together, they form grit.


Determination + Direction = Grit

What is Grit in Science?

The NGSS Standards require students to respond to complex phenomena in the classroom. Rather than memorizing vocabulary and scientific concepts, these students are building new knowledge by linking science concepts with real world events and examples. They are leading their own scientific discovery by asking and answering their own questions about phenomena.

This process is difficult! It requires real grit and determination. That’s why working in pairs, groups, and as a class helps drive student inquiry. Just like scientists and engineers in the real world, tacking complex concepts in the classroom requires peer review, instructor support, and hard work. When we learn from our peers and from our own hands-on experience, we build strong, personal connections to the subject matter.

To teach grit in the classroom, students must have room to ask their own questions about science phenomena, build their own models, test their own hypothesis, and learn from their mistakes. Sometimes we learn more from an investigation that didn’t go the way we thought it would than one that does. That’s an important lesson students can learn during hands-on investigation, as they work with their peers and have the opportunity to test, change their methods, and re-test to see the impact of what they’ve learned on their new results. Students who have grit, just like scientists and engineers, keep trying, learning, and improving.

Grit and the Next Generation Science Standards

When it comes to understanding how to instill grit in students in the context of the Next Generation Science Standards—or really any standards, a good first question to ask is: What’s their goal?

Under more traditional standards, the goal was for students to know the right answer.

However, with NGSS, remembering isn’t the goal; serious skill development is. We want students to be able to use and grow those skills in pursuit of a deeper understanding of content.

Developing skills takes perseverance on the students’ behalf because the Next Generation Science Standards expect that students actually engage with the content.

They must not only remember facts, but also create their own approaches to engaging with content, evaluating results, analyzing what those results mean, and using that information to solve problems and answer questions.

It is through this process that students gain a deeper understanding of science and engineering.

You can understand why classroom curriculum and lessons in the classroom inquiry environment need to change. They need to require more student effort. That might seem counterproductive to student learning if you believe it would lead to lower engagement with the material.

However, this involves a misconception. Effortful activity can be engaging, but only if it is purposeful. There must be a full release of responsibility, leading to an environment in which science and engineering activities are student-centered. It must be intentionally nurturing, engaging students in the science and engineering practices, and relevant.

And it must be scaffolded from one grade level to the next so we are teaching as teams.

Talent is no longer enough. While it has an effect when it comes to skill development, the key is that by creating an environment where you expect effort and set challenges requiring it, students see a personal benefit to engaging in that task.

That is what creates grit, and in turn creates students who can successfully work through problems and questions just like scientists and engineers in later life.


“Growing up, I wanted to be an inventor, solving problems that would help people have better lives. Every day at KnowAtom is an opportunity to invent solutions that give thousands of students and teachers a better experience doing science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM). Providing educators with professional satisfaction and students with the opportunity to understand the world we live in is my way of helping people have better lives.”