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Study Finds Motivating Power in Scientists’ Struggles

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — February 23, 2016 1 min read
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Can learning about Albert Einstein’s struggles help students do better in science class?

New research from the American Psychological Association suggests that it can: High schoolers who read about scientists’ personal and academic challenges improved their grades in science class.

Researchers from Teachers College, Columbia University, asked 472 freshmen and sophomores at four high schools in an unnamed city to read one of three sets of short stories about Einstein, Marie Curie, and Michael Faraday. In one set of stories, the scientists struggled with intellectual challenges. In another, they confronted personal challenges. The third included stories of scientists’ success, with no mention of personal or intellectual struggles.

For instance, the story about Curie’s intellectual struggles showed her revisiting failed experiments again. The life-struggle story tells how she had to leave her native Poland because women were not allowed to attend school. The story that focused on achievement omitted those struggles and instead described how Curie was fluent in five languages at a young age and won many awards.

It turned out that students who read about either intellectual or personal struggle were likely to improve their science grades after reading the stories, especially those whose grades were low before the readings. Those who read about achievement did no better after reading the stories. And, both before and after the students read the stories, those who believed that effort, rather than innate talent, led to success in science tended to do better in science class.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 24, 2016 edition of Education Week as Study Finds Motivating Power in Scientists’ Struggles


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