Teaching and Mistakes

One of the prevailing theories we are hearing about in education is that we should promote a risk-free atmosphere for our students. we know that great innovation is usually only after great amounts of trial and error.  In other words, after we make a bunch of mistakes, we tend to finally get it right.

So, our students are encouraged to try without fear of ruining their grade.  Only when they become comfortable with their results should we finally assess them.  If they are dissatisfied of the assessment, we should let them try again.

All right, I can buy that.  Polio vaccine and light bulb filament are both results of thousands of failed attempts, and Rutherford’s own experiment to prove the “plumb-pudding” model of the atom was so off-base, that it resulted in a completely different model of the atom.


Are teachers also treated this way?  Are we willing/allowed to try something new without fear of failure?  Do we create an environment for our students which reflects the environment with which we work in – both good and bad?

Sometimes it’s hard to set aside the fact that everything we do is under immense scrutiny by the students, the parents, the administration, the state.

I happen to be the type of teacher that might dip his toes into the deep end of the pool to check how cold the water is, but I still jump in right away afterwards.  Frigid water or hot water, it doesn’t matter.  I think the dipping of the toes is so I’m not surprised by the results.  I do my research before the great leap.  I prepare the activities, but I still like to “see where it takes me and my students”.

Once I start with some new idea, take it all the way to the end.  I’m a bit stubborn that way.  I get excited when it all works out great and I keep it as part of my repertoire.  Even when it has failed miserably, and yes, I have had those activities as well. I dissect what was done; I try to figure out why it failed, and adjust and try again the next year.  I usually give an idea three tries before I set it aside.  Waiting for students who are “not like they used to be” so I can give it another three years worth of trying.

Luckily, I have an administrator who allows this.  He seems to also get excited whenever someone tries a new method or idea.  As long as we have research to back up our idea, he will even back up our idea to parents who like things the way they have always been. Which is a good thing.

This year it’s electronic lab books (first year of a third attempt) and Google Classroom (I’ve tried Edmodo, wikispaces, and html websites).  Wish me luck.

Next year, I want to go back to atoms first chemistry.


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