A researcher-practitioner’s critique of grit: Part II

Hey everybody. I wrote a “Part II” thing for my research team at Michigan State, led by the magnanimous maverick of science education research, Dr. Angela Calabrese Barton. (—here’s Part I)

Read it at invincibility.us!


Like a Piece of Gum.

Last time, I wrote a blog post about what I think about grit research. That post referenced a running metaphor that Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth made in her TED talk about grit. “Running ahead” with that metaphor, I challenged it with my own analogy about access to high-quality running shoes, in that there are some crucial resources that act as gatekeepers on people’s paths toward their goals. These gatekeepers (e.g., a high-quality educational opportunity) make rushing forward—AT ANY SPEED—toward a goal either easier, or much, much harder.

This time around, I want to introduce you to one particularly gritty young person I know, and to the metaphors he has used in discussions of his access to educational gatekeepers. This person—a youth engineer who is currently in the middle of prototyping an actual pair of running shoes—has some very relevant points to share about forward momentum and what it requires.

M*, an active member of our afterschool STEM club, visited our club at the end of last year (his 5th grade year) and asked to join. We turned him down, reminding him that the school year was almost over, and that our program membership usually begins in 6th grade. This fall, he showed up at our welcome back party and joined that same day. Since then, he has been actively involved in engineering for sustainable communities, developing novel footwear design solutions to community member’s needs related to injuries, cold and wet weather, and economic constraints.

We asked M what he thought about doing science and engineering afterschool in our program. Here’s what he said:




Our Grit Discourse is Insulting. Here’s Why.

Hey everybody! I wrote a thing for my research team at Michigan State, led by the magnanimous maverick of science education research, Dr. Angela Calabrese Barton!

Read it at invincibility.us!

Who Does Our Grit Discourse Gravely Insult, and Why?

A particular construct has been sweeping the educational research field. It promises a silver bullet of sorts to address educational challenges on an individual level, through individual perseverance. It makes this promise absent of any attendance to or recognition of specifically relevant contextual factors. This construct is grit.

The concept of grit, and its frenzied take-up by researchers and practitioners, needs to be problematized—and fast. Unfortunately for students, it has so far been given an almost “free pass” to permeate the conversation on and in our school systems with an insidious bootstrap mentality that rightly praises hard work and resilience yet simultaneous distorts that praise through an insulting, willful blindness that actively harms our nation’s children. The blindness of “grit speech” is the willful ignorance toward the powerful, and power-mediated, external factors that more often than not act as gate checks for students’ efforts toward success. No matter how “gritty” a student is, these factors retain the dangerous power to either expand or cripple such hard work. Such factors—socioeconomic status, parental free time at home, the color of students’ skin and the first language they learn at home, tax-dependent school resource levels that differ by district and often along lines of color, school violence levels that likewise disproportionately plague lower-income schools, teacher quality levels that (surprise, surprise) also are not equitably dispersed across schools and districts, etc.—matter. They matter a great deal: for the support students receive, for the support parents receive, for the assistance toward success that some “gritty” students can find and leverage more easily than others, etc…


2015 Youth Invention Showcase

They’re finally here, the ones you’ve all been waiting for… [drum roll please]…


CEbKESqWIAMkvmEWe were very excited this May to witness GET City youth innovators debut their latest engineering designs to solve safety problems in the Lansing community. Judging by the festive and anticipatory energy of the packed room, one could have easily mistaken this final event for the unveiling of the latest Apple accessory. But the reality was much, much better, as young makers shared with the audience their transformative actions for improving community life through their growing STEM expertise and their dedicated, purposeful STEM practices.




– Thanks!

GET City inventors display their work


I just returned from 2 academic (research) conferences that challenged me, excited me, and gifted me with new ideas, new methods, and new friendships.

#1: NARST: the National Association of Research in Science Teaching — the headquarters for learning about science education.

#2: AERA: the American Educational Research Association — the headquarters for learning about learning in general.

Highlights: I got to discuss some work completed with Dr. Angela Calabrese Barton, Dr. Edna Tan, Christina Restrepo Nazar and Myunghwan Shin. I heard from some amazing new research projects and met some cool VIIIPs (very interesting, intelligent, AND important people). I explored ideas related to student agency across settings, learning in informal spaces like museums & maker spaces, youth participatory action research (yPAR), multimodal representational practices, indigenous knowledge and practices in STEM, opportunities for working towards equity with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and multiple methods and methodologies for considering and representing STEM pathways and practices both in and out of school.

With the Invincibility Lab team, I presented & coauthored some “structured poster sessions” and a paper session. I am so happy & grateful that I was able to use that paper session to share a video made by the young innovators I work with — a video that showcases some pretty powerful resource leveraging and social strategy for the purposes of succeeding in tough STEM work and gaining public recognition for that work. I can’t wait to tell the kids how many people saw their movie!


Me & my advisor Angie Calabrese Barton presenting a “critical ethnography” (story) of a certain determined inventor girl I know… I was very honored to share a video she made with the room!

(FYI: I’ve finally learned the difference between 2 different poster events that happen at these conferences. A “poster session” is kinda like a science fair, with maybe 50 posters, in front of which authors stand & share info about their projects with visitors & passersby. A “structured poster session” is similar but a LOT smaller, including maybe 6-8 posters that all share a specific theme, selected/”curated” by someone who knows a ton of stuff about that theme, and presented in a smaller room where authors present something like a 2-minute overview of their project before stationing themselves in front of their posters.)

THE BEST PART: both conferences were in Chicago (during the same week!) which meant a 10-day-long homecoming extravaganza with loved ones (& fun @ Wrigley, Musicbox Theatre, Moody’s, Hopleaf, Thorndale Beach, & even Garrett’s popcorn!).

I miss all the great energy (& my Chi-City besties) so much already. I guess the only thing left to do is have Kanye play us out with his tribute to Chicago… which I totally blasted with the windows down as my “research sister” Christina and I sped down Lake Shore Drive.

Young World-Changers

Please visit http://getcity.org/ to see weekly work updates from an amazing group of engineering designers who spend their after-school hours (and some of their summer) continually inventing new solutions to help their community and make the world better for all.

These are the crazily smart kids I’ve been lucky enough to hang out with for the past year and a half. Since the last time I posted a grad school update here, I’ve been spending my time learning both FROM and WITH them, under the guidance of Dr. Angela Calabrese Barton and with the help of my research partners Myunghwan Shin and Christina Restrepo Nazar. I’ve also been thinking on some new research questions as a result of this work…

For now, please take a quick peek at some of the inventions they designed, prototyped, tested and presented to the public last year below. Then check out their original VIDEOS about those inventions here: http://getcity.org/earth-day-2014/

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Adventures at AERA Conference 2014

Just got back from my very first research conference, the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. It was a whirlwind.


  • Met Lynn Dierking, author of more than a handful of influential books on museum learning, including The Museum Experience, The Museum Experience Revisited, Museums and Families, Learning From Museums, and Lessons Without Limit.
  • Joined a working group roundtable led by several graduate students and faculty members of Teacher’s College, Columbia University who share an interest in social participatory youth co-researcher methodologies (inviting research participants to actually participate in the research that’s about them—an innovative, social-justice oriented approach to qualitative research).
  • Saw my mentor Angela Calabrese Barton deliver a keynote address to the Science Teaching and Learning Special Interest Group (and met a wonderful variety of science education researchers there).
  • Learned about the University of Minnesota’s Bright Stars research project in a symposium chaired by Cassandra Scharber, a program that explored how different educational spaces (a classroom, a library and a community organization) acted as empowering, technology-mediated communities to inspire deep engagement in learning.
  • Heard from Yasmin Kafai, author of Connected Play, about how kids in her project leveraged educational content to gain power and explore new roles in a “virtual play space” (and about how logfile data showed the research team what ethnographic interviews could not reveal).
  • Delivered a poster presentation on John Dewey’s influence on more recent themes in science education research, alongside two longtime Dewey scholars: David Wong from Michigan State and Kevin Pugh from the University of Northern Colorado. The actual poster is pictured below, with a very excited young researcher standing in front…