Monday, July 14, 2014

Failure is Totally an Option!

Please, for the sake of our kids, take down your inspirational posters that read, "Failure is not an option" and replace them with posters that say:

Fail Early and Fail Often
Failure is Totally an Option
From Failure you Learn; from Success, Not so Much

We may have had it wrong. The infamous Apollo 13 quote "Failure is Not an Option" is a mantra that I believe, gives students the wrong impression about how problems are solved. In context of the movie, the engineers had a challenge unlike any that most ever have to face. They had limited supplies, limited time, and people's lives were at stake. Being wrong had devastating results.  So the quote in that context is inspiring. However, the real engineering design process, requires failure. And the sooner you fail, the quicker you learn. The more you fail, the faster you learn.

I'm nervous that the pervasive message that "failing is bad" had raised up a generation of kids who now won't take risks.  Our focus on standardized testing has exacerbated the problem. Look around you. Do you know kids who are scared to do try new things unless given explicit directions and guidance? Do you know any kids who love to tinker, taking things apart? What happened to try it and see what happens? 

I was inspired by this article titled, Genius Hour; What kids learn from failure. Modeled after Google's 20% idea, middle school kids were given 80 minutes a week to work on any project of their choosing. Students meet with teachers to brainstorm, and students present and share their ideas. The standards of writing, listening, and communicating all come into play. But more powerfully, students learn to accept failure, and learn from it.

While leading a workshop recently, technology teacher Jarrod Rackauskas said he's learned that when facilitating project based learning, it is best if students fail early, rather than later. If teachers encourage students to tinker, think, develop prototypes, but wait too long to try them out, students are overly discouraged by their failure. But if they fail early, they are better able to see that failure helps them learn what's wrong, and how to fix it.  

Avoiding failure is a mindset that is so engrained in students, it will take time to undo this type of thinking. I suggest we take baby steps. Watch the words you use when students are working on projects. For example, replace, "Better luck next time" with "Great, now what can you learn from this to make your next one better?"

Encourage students when they make a wrong prediction or when their prototypes don't work. In fact celebrate it! Give them kudos, give them a crown of failure.  Let them know failure is how you begin to do something great!  

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. I completely agree that students need to learn that failure is not the end result, but merely an important part of a process. The only disagreement I have with this post, is I feel we should not promote failure, but teach students to accept failure and to learn from it. The only reason I say this is that being a teacher for a few years, I have learned there are many students out there that will interpret this to mean it is ok if they never improve. But, I do believe this article was a great read. This has been something I have really tried to teach my students. I teach technology education and this past year I started doing design challenges in my drafting and design 1 class. I would do two or three really similar challenges, so by the last challenge of the set, there would be a strong competition. I would hear students say this didn't work last time, but I think if we adjusted this and since this challenge has this added component we could try this. Students became more aware of their failures and how it helped them to achieve success, even if they didn't win the competition that had shown great improvement from their last challenge; and losing the challenge made them work that much harder during the next set of challenges. Thank you for posting!


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