The other day I had a thought, and I tweeted it. That thought was
In learning, failure is not an option. It’s a *necessity*.
Now, that may seem somewhat trite, but it is also true. If all we ever do is succeed, we have never pushed our own limits. But I think more importantly, students are terrified of failure in any form. It is an important step – and a very liberating one – when students realize they can do poorly on something without it being the end of the world. And when they start to realize that it is a stepping stone to future success, that’s when they take off. I see this every year when my AP Physics students get back a practice exam with a raw score of 50%. After they have a good cry, they realize they have lost nothing, and gained considerable experience, and move on. But why should grade 12 be the first time they encounter this?
So I considered the idea of a small project that would require prototyping. The object of a prototype is to fail. That is,it is to test the limits of design, so it can be improved. By forcing successive failures that lead to gradual improvement, this mindset can be modeled. A bit of real world context could help too: WD40, for example, is almost as ubiquitous as duct tape, and yet the 40 means they tried – and failed – 39 times before they hit on a working formula.
But then it occurred to me that another common example of repeated failure leading to success is Angry Birds. No one ever ever uses up their birds and says “I’m a failure at this game”. Ever. Experienced players will even launch birds at specific targets in an attempt to discover weaknesses in the structure, which is intentional failure with a purpose.
I don’t know where I will go with this idea yet, but I think it is a powerful one, and worth mulling over.