Guest Blog Post: The Science in Making Mistakes

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I am excited to share a guest post by Chris this week, whom I first met a couple of years ago at New Philadelphia Church here in Seoul. And now we are co-workers! Chris is a passionate and well-connected educator with a blog titled Teach Science Right. I think Chris is our first high school international teacher to be featured on our blog, so check out his site, you won’t be disappointed.

As a science teacher my younger students often look at me in fear at the beginning of the year. The first things they tend to notice is my buzz cut, facial hair & low voice and immediately assume that I’m an intimidating, hard-grading type of science teacher.

But that doesn’t last long!

I’ve learned that many students have these views of my classroom and me because often their previous teachers have filled their heads with this impression. I also know that it’s usually not me that they are intimidated by; rather it’s the content. Science is given a bad rap in many classrooms (not all, but many). It’s often seen as a subject that only the socially awkward students tend to enjoy, or only the really, really intelligent kids enjoy.

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It doesn’t take long for me to right these wrongs…

I’m beginning to lose count of all the parents that have personally thanked me during PTCs. Many of them express that their child grew up with a love for science, nature and experiments but quickly lost that love as they grew into adolescence and the pressures of content, tests and memorization squeezed the joy out of it for them. They express to me that their son or daughter finally enjoys science again.

What music to my ears!

And now I want to share my biggest teaching secret….

Room for Mistakes.

Now I realize many readers may teach younger students in which mistakes happen all the time and are common-place, and rightly so are seen as vital to the learning process. But somewhere between lower elementary school and middle & high school teachers have unlearned that mistakes are such a part of the learning process.

Now if a student forgets their homework at home or misses a deadline… well too bad. If a student forgot to answer a question on the practice worksheet (I repeat… the practice) we take points away that can never be made up (because we are calculating their grade based on how many points they got correct out of how many points they could have gotten correct and then wonder why they always ask for extra credit).

And I want to ask, where is the room for mistakes?

I put a lot of effort into creating a class atmosphere that is safe – safe from ridicule of mistakes, safe from rewards for not making mistakes, and safe from a grade being lowered for making mistakes.

Does everyone get an A in my class? – Nope. Not even close. Does everyone have a chance to earn an A? You betcha!

“Forgot your homework? That’s alright, get it to me tomorrow.”

“Forgot to do that problem on the practice? Well show me now that you know how to complete it and I’ll give you credit.”

“What?! You did the wrong page in the textbook?! Oh well, while we work on Activity D why don’t you complete the correct problems and then show me?”

My methods aren’t popular. Many arguments I receive are along the lines of “Not adequately preparing our young people for the future workforce”, and “You are making it too easy on them.”

To which I ask, What made you decide to teach? Did you want to prepare students for jobs? Be a tough, hard-nose teacher?

Or did you simply want to inspire?

Think about your hobbies – i.e. the things that you really enjoy doing and get energy from doing. Most likely they are activities in which you are no expert and you make mistakes.  And most likely they are activities in which you had freedom to learn, freedom to experiment, freedom to mess-up without somebody punishing you for it.

That’s all I’m doing. I’m teaching my kids to not only learn science, but to enjoy science – by taking the fear out of it.

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For more information, be sure to search Google for “Standards-based grading and reporting” to see where many of my methods were derived from.

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