STEM: Failure is Now an Option

STEMOn a recent Southwest Airlines flight, a quote from an article caught my eye. “When kids are successful in school, that’s great, but we’re interested in seeing kids fail.” As a teacher, I was intrigued.  Wanting to see kids fail?  Isn’t our goal the complete opposite?  Hooked by this proposition, I read on—and to my surprise, I was quickly on board with Sparktruck’s lessons on failure.

Let me explain.  This proponent of failure, Eugene Korsunskiy, is a Stanford graduate student involved in a project called Sparktruck. Sparktruck travels around the US inviting kids to brainstorm, experiment, prototype, build, and yes, even fail.  And why is failure important?  Korsunskiy explains, “What we’re doing is creating a prototyping mind-set. You try something, you fail at something, you keep trying. We want kids to know it’s okay to make mistakes along the way.”

Read the Southwest article on Sparktruck here: “It’s a gas, gas, gas“.

The STEM fields require this type of perseverance in problem solving and critical thinking skills.  As teachers, we can help support these future STEM’ers by providing opportunities to build, explore, and fail in our classrooms.  We can all think of many famous scientists, engineers, and inventors who never gave up, who kept trying in the face of failure, and who in turn changed our world.   Like Thomas Edison famously said: “I have not failed.  I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

The most important part is the next step.  Asking, “What did you learn from this mistake?” Or “Why is this wrong?”  And most importantly, “What will you do differently next time?”  That’s real learning taking place right in front of our eyes.   So teachers, be inspired!  Encourage collaboration.  Celebrate lessons learned.  Show your students that innovation is a messy but rewarding process.  As Sir Ken Robinson explains in his TED Talk, “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

As teachers, we must not be afraid of failure either.  We have to tap into our own creativity, try new things, and let our students lead the learning in our classrooms.  The transition to the Common Core is making this path a whole lot easier through its recommended instructional shifts, practice standards for mathematics, and anchor standards for ELA.  We now have the “what” to teach, Sparktruck is showing us the “how”…. So my question is “when” are you going to get started?

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