Is it worth it? Duckworthian Teaching to Scientific Discover

Everyone once in their lives has had at least one wonderful idea. This idea could be anything, from putting ice in hot chocolate to cool it down faster (my own wonderful idea) to how to explain genetics that don’t follow Mendelian using recombination of genes and crossing over (A Wonderful idea courtesy of Barbra McClintock). However, these wonderful ideas are often dismissed in the classroom and students are left feeling their “wonderful ideas” were not important. But why do teacher’s dismiss these ideas? Some possibly reasons that a teacher might say to a curious mind include:

  • “We don’t have time to cover this”
  • “Its all in the book”
  • You can look it up later”
  • “Thats wrong, here’s whats right”

But what happens if we let the student uncover the answer for themselves? This is what Elenor Duckworth argues all teachers should explore inside their classrooms. Students have the ability to surprise us with not only their ability to ask questions but to also find ways to answer these curiosities.

Duckworth argues that in learning, the quest to find the answer to far more valuable than the answer itself. This quest can be filled so many twists and turns that include making mistakes and discovering that an answer may be incorrect. This allows students to grow and learn based on their own experiences in learning. This is far more valuable than a teacher simply throwing the answers at the student. So how can a teacher further push students to take part in the learning experience? Based on Duckworth’s book : “The Having of Wonderful Ideas” and other Essays, I point to several ways a lesson in a science classroom can get students engaged in this form of the learning process:

  • Students are being challenged
  • Students are asking critical questions
  • There is the chance for students to do things or find answers their own way
  • Wrong answers are used as a pushing off point to find the answer
  • The students are focused more on the process of finding answers than the answer themselves
  • Students are able to make connects beyond the material being discussed

These are just a few ways that students can begin to take control of their own learning through their own wonderful ideas and inquiries.

This is what NGSS standards reflect in their 3-D. Many science classrooms today, only discuss core ideas but never push students to ask why or use core ideas to problem solve. This is where NGSS Science and Engineer Practices come into play. Students here are pushed to use their previous knowledge and apply it to the actually doing of science and the uncovering of new concepts. Here, students are going through the process of finding answers and will be able to use these new logic and problem solving skills later on not only in the classroom but in life as well.

Practice in Reality

Applying these concepts That Duckworth argues, can be as simply or as complicated as any form of student centered learning. Some lessons will create the opportunity for students to take hold of the learning process while others may require extra help, time and differentiation for the students. However, as Duckworth proves, these strategies work and are well (duck)worth it! In addition, these strategies are more attainable than you might think! Here are two example lessons that cater to student led discover!

Seasons and the Sun

One example of a lesson in which students are engaged in finding the answers would be this exploration activity in which students use a flashlight and paper to find the answer to the question: what causes the seasons? This link shows the process in which students may discover the reason for the seasons. At first they may say that the distance for the sun is the season for the changes of season, but will soon learn through trial and error, and exploring the possibilities that the earths tilt is the real reason for the seasons we know today

Natural Selection

Another example in which students are given the chance to uncover new concepts would be by providing them with a graph or a set of graphs and allowing them to make predictions or hypotheses on what could be happened based on what is provided. For example, by providing them with the graphs below over the change of beak size in ground finches due to natural selection, students can brainstorm the causes for the change in beak size.

Based on these graphs, students can explore the causes for these trends. Here the key is that students are exploring their own ideas and are engaged in the process of discover and are encouraged to make predictions even if the predictions end up being wrong. The point is that they are engaged in the science behind the graphs instead of being told the science without actually experiencing it themselves.

Here Cesar Harada shows us the power of allowing students to take control of their learning and explore the possibilities of the world! However, letting students take control of the learning process does not need to include a global altering invention! They can be found in almost any classroom around the world when the teacher is able to step back and let the students uncover concepts themselves.


  1. Thanks Anna for your appreciation of my puns! I really like both of these lesson plans, but I have always been fan of natural selection. I also really like that lesson plan because it is so different from how I learned natural selection. I was taught with these exact graphs but were simply told what they meant. But science is about finding the explanation behind the graph and coming up with a hypothesis to explain the results and then retesting to further explore your hypothesis. I think this can be very impactful when students can start to uncover the answers behind the mystery of the graph and really engage in scientific research.

  2. Hey Caitlin! First of all, let me just say that I love all of your Duckworth puns. Also, thanks for your references to my girl, Barbara McClintock. You had some really great ideas about specific Duckworthian lessons that you could use in your future classroom. I especially loved the activity with the graphs because it is Duckworthian and involves the analysis of something other than text. Of the two lessons that you shared, which one do you like better or think you are more likely to use in your future classroom?

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