Jun 17, 2019

Mindset and Characteristics of Successful People: Teaching It!

Mindset and Characteristics of Successful People: Teaching It!

What characteristics make a successful scientist? 

Many students believe that these characteristics are innate characteristics that someone either has or doesn’t have. This could not be further from the truth. In reality, characteristics of scientists, and characteristics of successful people in general, can be learned. Mindset can change and develop! 

Mindset and Characteristics of Successful People: Teaching It!

Dataquest defines traits as “a mental habit with broad applications” and defines the five essential traits as curiosity, clarity, creativity, skepticism, and humility. In this article the author outlines steps to take to develop each of these traits. Again, these can be learned.

Human Nature Concepts also writes about the 10 Characteristics of scientists, and identifies them as follows: curiosity, open-minded, keen observer, resourceful, purposeful, good communicator, persistent, creative, critical thinker, and courageous.

Michigan State University also answers the question of “What Makes a Good Scientist?” with a very similar list: curious, patient, courageous, detail-oriented, creative, persistent, communicative, open-minded, and critical thinker/problem solver.

Lastly, the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative has several different interviews on the topic of “What Makes a Good Scientist?”

All of these have many qualities in common, as you may have noticed. Are these qualities that you see in your students? If not, how can we teach/emphasize these qualities to students?

How do we teach these skills?

We can (and probably do) teach many of this skills as part of science. I know we try to teach observation, skepticism, and problem solving (certainly part of the new science standards). I’m sure we teach lessons that work on creativity and resourcefulness (perhaps integrated with engineering design, or creating a presentation. But how to we encourage these throughout the year, and really get students to think of themselves as having these skills? Although these lessons are great, and they introduce these skills, students need to see them on a regular basis, and see them applied. Otherwise it’s far too easy for these to be removed from real life, and become another abstract classroom lesson

We need to practice, demonstrate, and reinforce these skills on a regular basis to change students’ mindset, and self-image.

As science teachers, it is likely that we practice those that are more traditional science skills throughout the year, such as observation, and communication, but what about things like persistence, courage, and curiosity. These can be encouraged in the classroom through both the frequent use of examples and role models, affirmations, and a change in classroom culture.

These characteristics are very similar to the idea of growth mindset. Here is a great article on 6 Tips to Help Students Develop a Growth Mindset. Interestingly, one of their strategies is to Read books with characters who face challenges and develop strategies to overcome them, in other words, to utilize role models, similar to those discussed in my last post.

It is also a great idea to change the language in the classroom, to model it yourself, and to utilize affirmations and inspirational bulletin boards. Here is a huge list of free printables that you could certainly use in your classroom.

It is equally important to tie these to real-life examples, however, such as other people who have demonstrated these skills. Some examples can be seen in this Growing Bundle.

I’d love to hear your ideas for particular lessons or things that you do in class that help students practice and reinforce the mindest and traits of scientists. Do you have an particular lessons that are great ways to teach these skills? If so, feel free to comment below, or jump in our Facebook Group and share!

Jun 3, 2019

Be Inspired by Successful Teen Role Models

Be Inspired by Successful Teen Role Models

For students whose parents are engineers, scientists, or who have friends or family friends in these roles, it is easier to picture themselves in that role. When students have good role models of scientists, problems solvers, and engineers as a part of their daily life, they see that as a path they can follow to do the same. When most people you know have gone to college, you also assume that you will go on to college.

Be Inspired by Successful Teen Role Models

But what about those students who don’t have those role models in their everyday lives?

Many of our students are from a poorer demographic, don’t have friends and family who are very educated, don’t speak the dominant language etcetera, and may have a more difficult seeing themselves in this role. As they grow up they may not even think that being an engineers, scientists, or other type of educated professional, having a patent, or being a ‘leader’ in this sense is an option or a possibility for them.

How do we fix this problem?

As teachers, I believe that part of our role in education is to show students examples of people similar to them who have been successful as engineers and scientists, even through non-traditional paths. Several scientific inventions have been made through hard work on a different path, or even through an accidental discovery that led to a greater invention.

Sometimes this can be through being that role model, as outlined in this article. It also helps build connections. The author states that “Students can sense that I understand their experiences, that I’m rooting for them, and that success in whatever field they choose is within their grasp.” There are several articles, such as this one, and this one that emphasize this idea of students benefiting from having teachers whose background is more similar to their own.

What if we are not from a minority group?

If this is not our personal story, however, we can help present students with success stories, even if they are not our personal story. I don’t believe it is only minority teachers who can help bring this benefit to a classroom of minority students. It has been shown that “Good Teachers Embrace Their Students’ Cultural Background.” In fact, in a study of high achieving urban environments, some of the deciding factors were the “development of a belief in self, supportive adults, interaction with a network of high-achieving peers, extracurricular activities, challenging classes such as honors classes, personal characteristics such as motivation and resilience, and family support” as cited in this article. As teachers, we can help support these skills and qualities. When we bring examples of pictures of scientists into class, it is critically important that they look like our students. This idea is further explored in this article, the authors state that reading acts as both a window and a mirror…. “mirrors in that they can reflect on children’s own lives, and windows in that they can give children a chance to learn about someone else’s life.” Additionally, “while it may be ideal for children to actually meet people from different backgrounds [or from a similar background, but with a different ending] in person, if that isn’t possible, books can serve as a first introduction to an outside world.” The article does a great job of explaining the importance of introducing students to these examples. This is the idea behind the book Wonder Woman, by Sam Maggs, explored in this article “Why it’s so important for girls to find role models in female scientists.

This is all a part of being a teacher too. We need to help students see that science is more than the type of science in the textbook for which they are graded and tested, and that it is something accessible to them. We can do this by showing them examples. As you bring in famous scientists to talk about in class, new articles to use, or other examples in class, make an effort to showcase people of various backgrounds. It adds value to both the students, and to the class as a whole!  Some great examples are William Kamkwamba, Deepika Kurup, and Trisha Prabu, but there are many more out there! Utilize them in your class with your students!  See how they react!

May 20, 2019

Can I Really Be a Scientist?


You may think of your students as ‘scientists’ and you may even refer to them as scientists.  But what do they think a scientist is?  Do they consider themselves scientists? 

Reflection on How Students View Scientists; and Themselves

Draw a Scientist

Many of you may have done or seen the ‘draw a scientist’ activity.  If you haven’t heard of it, it is an activity where students draw their idea of "a scientist doing science." The exercise surfaces students' prior understandings of the nature of science and the demographics of scientists.

Unfortunately, the results show that many students don't see themselves as scientists. According to an article written in 2018, students are still primarily drawing white males as scientists. Over the past 50 years the number of female scientists being drawn has greatly increased, but is still only 28%.   The authors of this article stated that “stereotypes of scientists not only shape ….perceptions of who is a scientist, but also influence their perception of who can be a scientist.”  The researchers also mentioned that these stereotypes go beyond gender, 79% of the scientists drawn were white.

This is a problem.  This is a especially a problem for minorities, females, foreign students, etc.

When we are teaching students who don’t match this image (who are female, darker skin colored, etc) it is even harder for them to see themselves as scientists.

Why is this important?  

This puts students one step farther away from what we are trying to teach them.  This is yet another way that they feel disconnected from school, and feel that it doesn’t apply to them.
We are teaching students science, and we want them to see themselves as part of science, and the scientific process.  However, many students don’t see science as relevant to their own lives. They science as only a subject in school that they need to pass, but they are, in fact, not part of it.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Science should be relevant to students’ lives. Science involves problem solving from everyday life, their own bodies, and the world around them.  However, this is not always what students see.

As educators, part of our role ideally is to help bring students to a place where students can see the connections to their own lives.

Your Challenge

I challenge you to try the “Draw A Scientist” lesson with your own students. It can be a quick activity that takes 10 minutes at the end of class, or a full blown lesson.  I’d love if you’d report back with the results. Are your students drawing white male scientists? Are they drawing scientists that look like them?  It would be really cool to have some discussion or reflection to go along with this.  Lastly, what if you showed some other examples of minority or female scientists and then had them draw?  Would you get different results?

If I taught elementary I would absolutely read them this book first and see if it changed my results.  Maybe I would read it to high school too?

Try it out!

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