Meaningful Maker Mistakes

by teachingcognitively

I put a high premium in my classroom on honoring mistakes as part of the learning process.  Students are encouraged to try and try again.  My grading system is set up around this concept (see my syllabus post).  Knowing this, it should not have been a problem when yesterday I made a whopper mistake.  In my physics class we are using the LEGO Education advanced simple and mechanized machines kits for the first time. I could not find a color brochure for the simple machines building so I spent a large portion of my prep period making color copies and laminating.  It was incredibly overwhelming (6 building activities – 3 or 4 builds in each one – 4 versions of each for the class…a lot of color ink and a lot of lamination) so I took a break for lunch.  I  gave one last look through the kit to clarify the challenges I did not need to copy and miraculously found color brochures of what I had just spent an hour making color versions of.

This seems silly to spend even a paragraph writing about but it put me in a total funk.  I could not get over it.  I still had at least an hour of the day left of prep period and my time is valuable but it was a mistake and mistakes are part of learning…yada, yada, yada all the things I tell my students all the time weren’t working.  Department meeting and some chatting with another physics teacher ended my day without the run I wanted and I got deeper and deeper into my funk.  Then it came to me early this morning lying awake, (doesn’t it always?) why I was so upset.

Trying to make an engaging, hands-on “maker” physics class that integrates art and design is a messy process.  I would love to make pretty color copies, organized into color-coded folders of simple machines. I would love the content that links to the hands on projects to be organized into perfectly sequential order into shared notes with my class but this isn’t going to happen right away either.  This mistake was made out of wishful thinking and spending time on something that I cannot control or make better or fix right away.  The mistake was important and I did learn something.  Not only was I reminded that LEGO is super organized and has already though of anything I could ever imagine to need, but I was reminded that learning can be messy. Planning can be messy and teaching can be messy.  It is both an art and a science and the art piece cannot always be put into boxes in a neat planning document to be shared during my teacher evaluation.

So I have learned from my mistake and that is what makes one truly embrace the mistakes.  Based on what I learned things are going to get a little messy and there are going to be more mistakes so hang on for a bumpy ride.  I guess we will draw some force diagrams about it!