How do we teach students it is okay to fail. Can we set up something? #edchatThis started a conversation that has been bothering me since. Basically, we were trying to come up with working definitions of failure and mistake. Can either of them be fixed? Some mistakes can't, but failure also implies an ending. I don't know the answer, but I know I'm not going to get terribly hung up on the technicalities.
— Adam Taylor (@2footgiraffe) July 10, 2012
The whole theme was how to get kids comfortable with failing. We teach them from the beginning that it really isn't okay, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise in my classroom that they are afraid to go there.
This is never more evident in Chemistry than when we go through our first lab. It has six parts that reinforce lab skills and investigate the conservation of mass. After each part, we talk about the results and work through an analysis. More often than not, there is at least one set of data that really doesn't allow us to draw any kind of conclusion. We get to talk about precision and careful measurements and what constitutes good data. And we all get to try it again if we don't like our initial results.
Today, however, was the first day I ever had someone cry.
Part five: Does mass change when sugar and water are mixed? Her group had gained a significant amount of mass somewhere between here and there. When I called on the group to explain what they did and how they ended up with those results, it came out that they had forgotten to mass the sugar before they added it to the water. In the following discussion, I looked over, and bless her, she had her head ducked down to the table, sniffling into her lab notebook.
When I asked why she was so upset, she looked at me like I had drowned her kitten and said, "but I was WRONG!"
And I said, "SO?"
Now, my classroom can rarely described as silent, but at that moment, you could hear the hum of my hard drive. She and nearly all of her classmates stared at me like I had truly gone insane.
"What do you mean, so?" she asked. "How am I supposed to get an A in this class if I can't even get the first lab right? I have to start catching up already and apparently chemistry isn't my thing and I haven't even gotten to the hard part yet."
I asked her if she knew what her group had done wrong and whether or not it could be fixed. Did she think maybe she could go back and redo her lab?
"Well, yes, but..."
"Then let's go do it."
That silent thing again...
"You mean we can fix this?"
Of course, child, how do you think you are going to learn if I just cut you off now? I WANT you to understand the conservation of mass, and I want you to understand it because YOU figured it out, not because I told you it was true.
To be honest, I'm not sure they all bought into it. I don't think they believe that I am going to
I'm not sure if this would be considered a failure or a mistake, and I don't really care. I just want my kids to feel comfortable taking risks in my classroom. This constant pressure to be perfect when perfect doesn't necessarily mean you have any idea what's going on. And for Newton's sake, quit quoting me wikipedia.
Maybe getting this out of the way early is a good thing. I am implementing capstones this year as a part of my assessment, and if I truly want my kids to go places with those, then they are going to have to take those risks and stretch those brains. I know it's scary and I know I am fighting a slightly inclined battle, but I truly feel like it's worth it.
And, really, I'm not good with crying.
*And by yesterday, I mean sometime last summer when I started this post and had to stop to get one of my children somewhere.
**Okay, first off, didn't you pay attention when I talked about grades and reassessment stuff??