What motivates our students to excel in understanding chemistry? For some students, they would like to pursue a career in a science related field while others are extrinsically motivated for a particular grade or graduation credit. Despite each student’s intention for learning, one aspect that many educators may overlook are the perceptions of how scientific breakthroughs were discovered. Many consider Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Michael Faraday elite minds and assume their work was a gradual process, without challenges or setbacks. In contrast these visionaries not only struggled professionally in their respective field of study, they had to overcome struggles in their personal lives as well.
“Even Einstein Struggled: Effects of Learning About Great Scientists’ Struggles on High School Students’ Motivation to Learn Science” is a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology this month which proposes that students should learn about the struggles of Einstein, Curie, and Faraday as well as how their work pertains to the curriculum. “Because overcoming failure is a natural part of science learning, the current study attempted to present students a realistic picture of doing science by emphasizing failure and the amount of effort required to succeed in science” (Lin-Siegler, p.10). When students were provided with either scientists’ life stories or their experimental struggles, in addition to the curriculum, their scientific learning improved. Conversely, when students were only presented with the accomplishments of the previously mentioned scientists, their scientific learning stayed consistent with previous data collected or potentially decreased.
Although educators may debate the necessity of including the personal and professional struggles of scientists into their chemistry curriculum, what should be considered is the connection that could be made with any student, especially those who have a low interest and/or ability in chemistry. Achievements in chemistry should not be perceived as an unattainable goal for students. Instead these achievements should be a result of continuous effort both academically as well as personally.
If any educator has spent instructional time on providing their students with academic and life struggles of various scientists, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave your comments below as well as any suggestions in regards to how to incorporate these ideas into chemistry curriculum.