Grit, a key to success?

I have watched this TED talk during weekend for the second time when I was browsing TED to find a good talk for my free time. In this talk, Professor Duckworth of University of Pennsylvania presented her research about the key success in learning and education. The idea of her PhD dissertation came to her mind when she was a teacher in New York public school for seven grader in mathematics. She learned that the thing matters in success of her students is beyond their IQ and their talent. She later on called that thing as “grit”.  Dr Duckworth’s research is looking at learning from psychological and motivational perspective. Through her research in various contexts, she finds out that one characteristic is a significant predictor of success which she called it grit. Grit, as she defined, is a motivation, passion, and perseverance for a long term goals.  Grit means working hard to get future into the reality. She describes grit as a point of view of “life as a marathon not sprint. ” Her research currently is to find new ways to make people specially kids to be gritter.

As a graduate student interested in education issues and working on inequality in education achievement, I think her idea is a novel approach to think about learning. In my research I try to measure inequality of opportunity in education outcome. I try to decompose the effect of various circumstances such as gender, parental education, socio-economic background of the student, and his/her community characteristics from his/her effort/luck. The idea is, your outcome should only be depend on your effort and not your circumstances such as your race or gender. The index I have calculated is called  inequality of opportunity (IOP) in education. Using Dr. Duckworth terminology, grit is a characteristic of a kid which is under her control, the same as effort, and as a result it is not part of IOP index. My point is, our current education system is not a system which is encouraging kids to be gritty. In fact in a system which your success measures with standard test scores and your grades for midterms and final tests, getting bad score in one test, can easily kill your motivation and grit. We live in a world that we need to have solid motivation for a long term to obtain our goals. In this world, it is important for every person to empower herself not to be disappointed very easily, however, neither in school nor in college, kids have no chance to learn about motivation and grit. We trained our kids to care about their test scores. If you got 95 in a course, you would call successful. While getting 95 is not necessarily means you are a gritty and motivated person. Maybe you have good IQ and could learn stuff very easily but without strengthening your passion, your perseverance for a long term goals, and in one word, without being gritty, could you be successful in long term both in your life and in your career? It seems the answer is “no” and unfortunately our education system not only teach to be gritty, it sometimes kills our motivation too.


In addition to this issue, I think about motivation and grit as a tool to help students who leave behind to improve their situation and outcomes. My idea is, if in a community race or gender (for instance being female and being black) has a great influence on a student education outcome, training female students or ethnic minority students to be grittier and be self-motivated can help them to improve their learning and education outcome and decrease the gap in their outcome with other students. In this view, encouraging kids to be passionate about their  goals can decrease IOP in education outcome.



Week 12- Ethics and Personal Ethos

The first two readings presented in the module were definitely difficult to determine if the journalists or students were breaking the ethical code. I could relate to issues in which it is hard to determine what resources a student can use that is considered fair. I am a teaching assistant for a laboratory section in which the laboratories are returned to the students after being graded. Although there is no way to truly control this, some students may have previous student’s laboratory reports from another semester to aid them in completing their report. Websites such as may have been created to help all students gain access to study material however, I think posting maybe an infringement on the professor’s scholarly work. The exams were created by the instructor and are considered their intellectual property, wouldn’t that be an ethical issue in itself? If the professor was not aware their work was being published on a website?

I grew up in a religious household with Christianity being the prime foundation. Growing up in that environment, I developed many beliefs and values from a very young age. I am constantly learning though and my beliefs have changed overtime. I attended a small liberal arts college for my undergraduate degree where we were required to take many philosophy, biblical and Christian theory classes. Many of these classes were eye opening and really helped bring in many different perspectives and cultures. My values haven’t changed that much throughout my life. To name a few I value honesty, integrity, humility, compassion, and respectfulness. I definitely couldn’t list all of my values in this one blog post. I try to hold myself to particular standards I define. I treat other people how I would want to be treated. I have my personal code of conduct that I stay true to and live by. A big part of my code of conduct is being accountable for all my actions.

Right Decision, Wrong Decision Road Sign



Blog Post 5: Ethics and Professionalism

I thought the readings this week were all very interesting and thought provoking. Specifically the UNC scandal involving “paper classes”. Reading the report on how UNC student athletes were put into classes that were academically not sound to boost their GPAs, is such an obvious and egregious example of the types of challenges universities face everyday. Even though Deborah Crowder was the main culprit in this crime, it is pretty clear from the report that she was working within a culture at  UNC that was, if not permissive at a minimum ambivalent, to what was going on. From advisors suggesting these classes to students, to her supervisor, to the students themselves there appears to have been a culture where ethics and professionalism took a back seat to other goals.

It seems unthinkable that a situation like that could occur at Virginia Tech, but when you think of all of the different goals that the school tries to balance, it is not impossible that something like this could happen unless an ethical and professional culture is actively maintained to fight it.

I think that there will always be bad actors in an organization as large as a university; people who willfully choose to act in inappropriate ways. Having these actors, like Deborah Crowder, is impossible to avoid. Having a culture which allows them to continue operating however, is not at all inevitable. It takes proper training and oversight but with the right program we can ensure that incidents like this are caught and corrected.

Totally Terrific Teaching

The readings this week offered some valuable advice on how to develop an effective teaching mindset. Admittedly, most of it seemed rather intuitive – not because I’m a particularly talented teacher – but because I’ve been privileged to experience high quality teaching throughout my academic career. My best teachers were not the ones that conveyed information the most effectively. The best were the ones who could infect me with their enthusiasm and passion for the subject matter. With that sort of fuel, I think anyone is capable of directing their own learning faster and more efficiently than someone else would be able to teach them.

As a teacher, I try to be less of a source of information to my students than a resource to challenge their thinking. Rather than confirming something for them, I think it is far more valuable to present them with a challenge that would allow them to confirm or invalidate their suspicion/theory.

There are a few reasons I think this works well for me. I am 24 and my students are 20 – 21. I’ve always been very clear with them about my level of expertise and inexperience as a teacher. The students have a very realistic expectation to match and even surpass my understanding of at least some class concepts and materials. I think many students find the prospect of educating their teacher enticing. After all, what pupil doesn’t want to become the master?

Moving forward by visiting the past

Isn’t it interesting that everyone has a particular bent for the novel learning method? Our society is structured to never revisit the past, but to embrace the future. Take, for instance, the Progressive movement in politics here in the US. This camp hangs its hat on leaving our past behind, moving forward in great strides, always living on the very edge of societal innovation.

In contrast, my area of study is rooted in very ancient things–concepts that are timeless and profoundly explorative. Horticulture/Forestry, at its very best, is absent of technology at its very core, and integrates only that which is absolutely necessary. Sure, there are GIS methods for mapping various traits via satellite mapping, etc, but a student/professional/hobbyist cannot exist without exposing themselves (nay, immersing themselves!) to the very subject they study.

Therefore, all this talk about digitally-based learning and interactive classrooms mean very little to me. Instead, I see the exact opposite necessity in my classroom: Unplug the students, immerse them in the very subject they came to study, and use physical learning to drive home concepts and explore imaginative unknowns.

In my case, creating a game to simulate and accompany classroom concepts is almost worthless. The students need to instead touch a tree, look at cross-sections, and ponder the structures contained in our specimen to understand how water moves through the system. They need to visit urban forests to see and feel how urban stressors (e.g., compaction) limit tree establishment and success. They need to know the miraculous way trees cope with competition and innumerable stressors, pests and disease to survive, thrive, and provide ecosystem services.

I am absolutely progressive in regards to educational reform, however, the path to successful teaching and learning is vastly different for me than what we are discussing in this class so far. There is a need to revisit our past in education. We need to reclaim interactive learning–not digital interaction, but interaction with the physical subjects that we study. Our students need less classroom time, and more subject investment.

The Futility of Teaching

I think the readings and videos this week made some interesting and well-founded critiques and analysis of the state of education and teaching. Conceptualizing education around the learning experience as opposed to the information learned offers a powerful tool to re-imagining what it means to be well-educated. I would contend that what you know – or even how much you know – has little to do with whether or not someone is well educated. But if I’m going to talk about what it means to be educated, perhaps I should say something about the goals and purpose of an education.

The purpose of an education is often connected to larger views about society, self-hood, ethics, and so on. It seems to me the current dominating attitude is that education is an investment in future workers so that they may be more productive later on – that is, schools are primarily economic tools to further corporate profits. I believe schools should primarily be seen as tools for serving and improving democratic society. With this view of schools, it is relatively easy to see that the purpose of an education should be to instill people with critical thinking skills, a social conscience and sense of justice, the capacity to understand individual consciousness, and to generally produce cheerful people with amiable ties and attitudes towards the rest of their community. But I have to question how realistic it is that you can teach people to be this way. Can you?

Ultimately, a good education mostly prepares one for more education. It seems then that to be well educated is simply to have the desire to continue learning. But how can teachers help to ensure this outcome – that their students become enthusiastic, self-directed, intellectual explorers capable of challenging themselves and others with interesting questions? In addition, how to you convince students that they should have an interest in thinking this way? How do you inspire the intrinsic motivation to learn for the sake of expanding one’s intellect?

Unfortunately, I don’t think you can teach these things. This is tangentially related to a theme that ties together many of Herman Hesse’s – one of my favorite authors – novels: that there is a certain knowledge and wisdom that can only be gained through experience. I think the democratic and humanitarian values we should really want to teach our children are the very things we cannot directly instill in them.

The videos and readings this week made good arguments for how teachers can better foster a learning environment that facilitates the self-learning of students. However, I did not see much about how teachers can lead by example through their own learning. For instance, I am teaching an engineering lab course, but I try to inspire students to become more independent learners with my behaviors outside the classroom. I am always reading (typically fiction) when I walk through campus and have donated a small library to the MSE undergraduate lounge. This being my first time teaching, I have many opportunities to share what I am learning with my students from the experience. If we want to educate people well we first have to inspire their confidence and curiosity to learn – the best way to do that is through our own example.

About Me

I am a PhD candidate at ISE, Virginia Tech.  My supervisor is Prof. Maury Nussbaum. Recently, I have graduated from M.Sc., Industrial and Systems Engineering Dept., Virginia Tech, USA.

Also, I have graduated from M.Sc.  in Mechanical Engineering (Biomechanical Division) at Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, Iran. As a M.S. Biomechanical Alumni, I have worked on Wearable Technology, human movement analysis, Sensor fusion, Biomechatronics, Nonlinear control and Neural Network. I was working under supervision of Prof. M. Parnianpour at Sharif University and Prof. B. Moshiri at University of Tehran (Electrical Eng. Dept., IEEE Senior Member).

My M.S. thesis was “Wearable Measuring System for Trunk Movement using Printed Sensor Technology” and we won a grant award ($25000) from Iran National Science Foundation (INSF) to perform it. In this project, I utilized 18 IMU, 12 Textile sensors and a fusion of them to manufacture wearable clothing for trunk movement instrumentation for ten hours.

I received the B.Sc. degree in Mechanical Engineering and I was ranked first out of 76 students. My thesis was “Design, Analysis and Manufacturing a Double Wishbone Suspension System with Variable Camber Angle by Pneumatics Mechanism”.

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