|What is the study about? |
This study examined whether students who read stories about the personal or intellectual struggles of famous scientists had higher science grades than students who read stories about the scientists’ achievements only. The study authors randomly assigned 472 9th and 10th grade students in four New York City high schools to three groups within the same science classrooms. One group of students was assigned to read about the personal struggles of Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Michael Faraday, such as poverty and prejudice. A second group of students was assigned to read about these scientists’ intellectual struggles, such as having to rewrite papers and repeating experiments. A third group of students was assigned to read about these scientists’ awards and achievements without mention of their intellectual or life struggles. Students read the stories once a week for three weeks during science class. The study analyzed the science grades of 402 students in these groups who had science grades recorded before and after the interventions were completed, and who attended at least one of the science classes where students read stories about the scientists’ personal struggles, intellectual struggles, or achievements. The study also analyzed the science grades of students who had low or high science grades before the interventions.
What did the study report?
The study authors reported that students who read stories about the scientists’ personal or intellectual struggles had higher science grades compared to students who read about the scientists’ achievements only. The study authors reported this finding both for the full sample of students and for the subgroup of students who had low science grades before the interventions. These differences were statistically significant. The study authors also reported that students who read about the scientists’ personal struggles had similar science grades as students who read about scientists’ intellectual struggles. For the subgroup of students who had high grades before the interventions, the study authors found that students who read about the scientists’ personal or intellectual struggles had similar science grades to students who read about scientists’ achievements only.
How does the WWC rate this study?
This study meets WWC group design standards with reservations. Although the initial sample was formed by random assignment, WWC standards required the study to demonstrate equivalence because the authors conducted analyses on the subset of randomized students who attended classes where the stories were read, excluding those who did not attend. This approach jeopardizes the random assignment design. While the study authors did not analyze students according to their randomly assigned conditions, the authors demonstrated baseline equivalence of the students in each of the three intervention groups included in the analysis. The WWC found evidence of some baseline differences between groups, but the analysis used appropriate statistical adjustments to account for these. A forthcoming review will report more fully on the study results.
Lin-Siegler, X., Ahn, J. N., Chen, J., Fang, F.-F. A., & Luna-Lucero, M. (2016). Even Einstein struggled: Effects of learning about great scientists’ struggles on high school students’ motivation to learn science. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 314–328. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000092