Resource Watch: Teach Students ‘Grit’ With the Stories of Nobel Laureates

By Madeline Will — October 07, 2016 2 min read
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Any of the students sitting in your classroom could become a future Nobel Prize laureate—and a new collection of resources intends to inspire them through past winners’ stories of grit and achievement.

EF Education First, an international educational tours company, and the Nobel Museum in Stockholm have partnered to release a textbook, free for digital download, as well as an accompanying teacher’s guide, that shares the stories of 10 Nobel Prize winners.

The resources coincide with the Nobel Committee’s announcement of the 2016 winners. The textbook, “Nobel Journeys,” aims to inspire students by sharing the hardships and motivations of Nobel Prize winners from multiple generations and countries—including Malala Yousafzai, who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for fighting for girls’ education, Marie Curie, who won two Nobel Prizes for chemistry and physics in the early 1900s, and Elie Wiesel, who won the 1986 Peace Prize for his humanitarian work.

“We want to show the diversity [of recipients],” said Carin Klaesson, a curator at the Nobel Museum, in an interview with Education Week Teacher. “We want to show that people with different backgrounds and from different times, different contexts, different nationalities, both genders, are represented when it comes to the Nobel Prize.”

The teacher’s guide organizes the stories into three themes—grit, experiential learning, and cross-cultural communication—and offers discussion questions, additional readings and materials, and ideas for classroom activities that align with national standards.

In recent years, educators across the country have embraced the concept that students need to have grit—a measure of conscientiousness and perseverance—to succeed in life, although that idea is not without controversy and its deterrents. Studies have found that a student’s grit can predict everything from college-completion rates to winning contests like the National Spelling Bee—or, maybe, awards like Nobel Prizes.

For example, Mario Capecchi was homeless for five years as a child in Italy, long before winning the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2007 for his work in molecular biology. Toni Morrison, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993, faced discrimination that led her to write about race and identity from the black perspective. Albert Einstein temporarily dropped out of high school before realizing he wanted to study physics, which led to being awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921.

“We wanted to show that the Nobel Prize is seen as a victory, something that is a success—that is the case,” Klaesson said. “But we wanted to show ... they’re not born Noble Laureates. It is hard work, and creativity, and questioning, and persistence, and a huge amount of curiosity. All of them have failed in many ways; there are many failed experiences before the one that is a success or leads to insight.”

And, hopefully, the stories will encourage students’ love of learning, she added.

“These people, they kind of started with having fun,” she said. “They liked writing, they liked experimenting in the laboratory. It is about passion and joy and also persistence.”

Image of Malala Yousafzai by Flickr user Southbank Centre, licensed under Creative Commons

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.