What are “Atomic Habits”?
Atomic habits are a series of small changes and tiny breakthroughs that compound over time to help you fulfill your full potential (Clear, 2018, p. 7, 9). It can be succinctly summarized as “tiny changes, remarkable results” (Clear, 2018).
With this definition of atomic habits in mind: 1) how can we, as teachers, use atomic habits in our science classrooms and 2) how can our students use atomic habits to become student scientists?
For teachers, atomic habits can be implemented in the science classroom in two important ways: 1) environment design and 2) reflection and review.
1) Environment Design
Exemplary science teachers design the classroom environment to foster good habits for themselves and, in turn, their students. Clear (2018) advises making “cues of good habits obvious in your environment” (p. 90). Obvious cues in the science classroom that can promote the habit of teaching and learning through inquiry include:
- Having plants and animals in the classroom
- Creating discovery stations around the classroom
- Keeping class materials and resources organized and accessible
- Making the classroom interesting and inviting by considering desk/furniture arrangements, hanging posters, signs, etc.
2) Reflection and Review
In Atomic Habits, Clear (2018) defines reflection and review as “a process that allows you to remain conscious of your performance over time” (p. 250). Like the Career Best Effort (CBE) program utilized by the Las Angeles Lakers, exemplary science teachers consciously reflect on and review their own performance by:
- Monitoring progress made toward goals or objectives
- Identifying mistakes and areas for improvement
- Considering ways for improvement in the future
Real-world application: Create list of realistic goals and systems to accomplish those goals for the academic year. Ask yourself: what went well, what didn’t go well, and what did I learn? Designate a time (i.e. quarter, semester, and/or annual) to review your outcomes, reflect on successes and shortcomings, and adjust your goals and/or systems if needed.
For students, atomic habits can be utilized in the science classroom in two important ways: 1) understanding what progress looks like and 2) using habits to develop the student scientist identity.
1) What progress actually looks like for students
Students (and teachers) often expect learning to occur quickly and in a linear fashion (Clear, 2018, p. 20). However, breakthrough moments in learning are usually the result of diligent work and consistent habits over time.
It’s important for students to understand that the small changes they make will not often appear to make a difference until the critical point is reached – learning is a compounding process that requires patience and diligence to keep going until the desired outcome is reached (Clear, 2018, p. 28).
2) Using habits to develop a student scientist identity
How can students become student scientists? It requires a change in identity, and “identity emerges out of your habits” (Clear, 2018, p. 41). Clear (2018) provides two steps that students can take to change their identity from student to student scientist:
1) determine the kind of person you want to be (e.g., a student scientist) and,
2) prove that you are becoming that person taking small steps toward your desired identity each day (e.g., reviewing science notes 20 minutes each day) (p. 39).
Real-world application: A useful strategy for students who want to improve their study habits is a form of implementation intention called habit stacking (Clear, 2018, p. 70-72). Habit stacking pairs a new habit with a current habit (Clear, 2018, p. 74). For example, a student can make a habit stacking plan by stating that “after I finish eating dinner, I will review my science notes for twenty minutes.” Using this technique, a student will create a new habit of reviewing their science notes after completing the habit of eating dinner.
Check out this interview of James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, describing how your identity is linked to your habits.
Final thoughts: Understanding how atomic habits work can help both teachers and students design and implement them in a way that creates a more productive and efficient learning environment.
References: Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits & break bad ones; tiny changes, remarkable results. Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House.