Come January, Philadelphia high school students will have the opportunity to learn about grit from a MacArthur genius.
Angela Duckworth, the psychologist and University of Pennsylvania professor whose research on character and grit has made her a household name, has long dreamed of teaching a course that takes the science of grit and makes it actionable.
“Grit Lab: Fostering Passion and Perseverance” launched a year ago, offering Penn undergraduates a way to learn about things like the science of stress, growth mindset, and how to line up what you’re doing with your time with what you care about. In the spring semester, the class will also be open to Philadelphia high school students via the university’s Young Scholars program. (There’s no cost for students in the Philadelphia School District; others must pay a fee.)
Grit Lab is designed to help students accomplish longterm goals.
“It covers things that are relevant to undergraduates, but wouldn’t it be better if they learned those skills earlier? I think high school students can benefit at least as much as their undergraduate peers,” said Duckworth.
There are no entrance requirements, but students must fill out an extensive online application, write essays, and create a short video. Interested students must apply by Nov. 29 to the course and Dec. 1 to Young Scholars.
The class draws superstar guests who are “gritty individuals,” Duckworth said — think baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez, volleyball standout Kerri Walsh Jennings and restaurateur David Chang — and teamwork is essential. Students are placed into small groups of four to six and will work together all semester.
In its first two incarnations, Grit Lab drew 60, then 80 students, but can accommodate more in the spring because of the online format and team structure, Duckworth said.
If the class is oversubscribed, a lottery will determine admission.
“The hope is that students will be applying from really diverse backgrounds and neighborhoods,” she said.
Grit Lab students must complete required readings, take quizzes, and tackle weekly activities that help cultivate passion or perseverance.
The class is offered on a pass-fail basis at Duckworth’s request, and has attracted students from all walks of life.
“I didn’t want the motivation to be anything other than intrinsic motivation to learn and to grow,” Duckworth said. “We’ve had a mix of students across all years; people who want to be civic organizers, people who want to be hedge fund managers.”
GritLab has gotten rave reviews to date. In a final essay, one student called it “completely life-changing.”
“The class did not want me to learn about 16th century Spain, the 5 Cs of marketing, or the compound interest formula,” the student wrote. “Rather, this class was about preparing its students to succeed in the real world, which is why it has been the most valuable course I’ve taken.”