Stories about struggling scientists improved science grades

A new study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology looks at the impact of “struggle stories” on success in science.

Students who think that success in science is only possible with exceptional talent may become demotivated and, for example, turn away from the idea of studying science in college.
In this study, 402 students in ninth and tenth grades (Year 10 and 11) in New York City schools read one of three kinds of story about an eminent scientist who:

  • struggled intellectually (eg, made mistakes and overcame them through effort);
  • struggled personally (eg, was poor or lacked parental support, but overcame it); or
  • made great discoveries (a control condition, without struggle).

The intervention lasted five weeks. Student achievement was measured using grades from the six-week sessions before and after the intervention, and motivation was measured using a pre- and post-test. Students in both of the “struggle story” conditions had higher grades than did those in the control condition, though the difference was not significant. There was no measurable difference on the motivation of the groups, but analysis of interviews showed that the students felt more connected to the scientists.

Source: Even Einstein Struggled: Effects of Learning About Great Scientists’ Struggles on High School Students’ Motivation to Learn Science. (2016), Journal of Educational Psychology.

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