James Dyson, inventor of the well-known vacuum brand, talks about how failures are important to learning in an interview on ScienceFriday. I love his view and am interested in how this translates to K-16 classrooms. If you don’t have time to listen to all ~17 minutes, listen to the clip between 4:14 and 4:52. This quote sums up his position:
“In life, you don’t have the right answers available all the time. You have to work them out. So I would actually mark children by the number of mistakes they make because they’ve experienced failure and learned from it. Whereas the brilliant child who gets it right the first time because they remembered the answer isn’t necessarily the one who is going to change the world or succeed in life.”
Curriculum developers are also interested in this idea. The Museum of Science in Boston has created an entire engineering curriculum for grades 1-8. One of the ideas is “testing to failure”, i.e. adding weight to a bridge until it fails. Failure is acceptable, and even needed, in this view in order to understand the design and materials – and to build a better bridge the next time.
We need to give up our idea of “right answers”, producing high-stakes testing outcomes. From Charlotte Sanford Mason’s review of Yong Zhao’s books:
“…schools’ increasing reliance on standards, guidelines, assessment and evaluation is antithetical to producing creative, risk-taking entrepreneurs. He equates rates of “perceived entrepreneurial capacity” with numbers of patents and patent applications. Then, by comparing high scores on international tests, such as PISA and TIMSS, with the number of patents and patent applications in various countries, he establishes an inverse relationship between the two. He concludes, for example, that students from Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan achieve high-test scores, but produce low rates of entrepreneurship; students from the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. achieve middling test scores, but produce high numbers of entrepreneurs. He believes that support for entrepreneurship is exemplified in education that presents students with cross-disciplinary approaches, uses interactive pedagogy, and encourages creativity, critical thinking, and innovation. These elements are found in all good schools in the U.S., according to Zhao, and reflect our national character.”
Here’s to a generation of American students who can get me the flying skateboards that Back to the Future Part II promised… for 2015.