(reading time 4 minutes)
Thomas Edison has been credited with once saying, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” (Erica Hendry, Smithsonian.com, 2013) But we rarely hear or teach about those 10,000 times. In schools, we tend to focus on the final outcome of ideas that have shaped the world, and then expect students to go through the process of discovery on their own. They do research, work problems, and perform experiments all with a very clearly expected outcome, but rarely any examples of how to do that work. And typically when they miss the mark, they are penalized in the form of a number or letter that places them on a fairly limited scale of success and failure.
There is great pressure on students to just get the right answer, with no reward for the process of learning. And equally, there is great pressure on teachers to produce students who can get the right answers.
I recently came across the concept of the Biography of an idea in the book LAUNCH. And as I work with our Human Centered Design cohort (aka the innovatED team) it’s come to light that students generally stop being naturally inquisitive around middle school. And by high school, really struggle with inquiry and research. They’ve become so acclimated to the ‘game’ of school, they’re afraid to break the rules.
In a panel discussion the innovatED team had this week with area experts from Steelcase, Spectrum, Kendall and WMCAT, we learned that among soft skills employers are looking for, demonstrated curiosity and acceptance of ambiguity rank pretty high. A popular interview question is “Tell me about the best vacation you ever took.” That story tells prospective employers more about the type of person sitting in front of them than anything else; including, their risk-aversion level, if they are planners or jumpers, and how easily they roll with the punches. Each panel member also talked about marathon sessions of brainstorming and idea generation the regularly happen in their work. The ability to perform those tasks with humility, work as a team, and be genuinely collaborative were also touted. They fully supported teaching the design thinking process and were excited to hear that we’re moving in that direction here at the Diocese. Indeed, they lauded us as leaders of the pack in this area and are excited to continue working with us.
So, how might we create a culture in our classrooms where the process is as important as the outcome; a culture that supports risk-taking and discovery on the road to the right answer?
While there are many possibilities, the following three apps are tools that have been used in our classrooms and are accessible across platforms; including iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, and a variety of mobile devices. Each tool plays a unique role in recording every step of a great or, in the spirit of Mr. Edison, maybe not so great idea.
Start with Padlet. (YT video Overview) Padlet has many potential uses, but at the simplest level, it’s a place to generate ideas. It’s essentially an electronic version of sticky note brainstorming. Students post their ideas on a padlet wall and can then manipulate them to sort ideas into clusters. This can be done as a group on a shared wall, or individually. It would be a great tool just for getting unstuck in an assignment. A student could just throw out the options they think might work, and then work them through without forgetting what else they thought might work. I think I’ll start using it to collect my blog ideas!
Once ideas have been sorted and students choose a couple to work out, move to Mindmeister. (YT Channel) A powerful mapping tool, Mindmeister works to really organize and add detail to ideas. Students can add the type and order of tasks to get them started inquiring and researching their proposed process. They can record notes, questions, and observations as they move through the ideation process.
Once organized in Mindmeister, students move on to heavier lifting including observation, research and creating a draft. This may or may not be electronic as students sketch, draw, model, experiment, write, or attempt steps in a problem. During this work phase, students test their ideas and come to a conclusion that works, or doesn’t.
Remember if their answer isn’t ‘right’ (aka doesn’t work) that doesn’t mean they failed. The ultimate goal is always that they have learned. So success is in the learning, not in getting the right answer. But of course, you (and they) need to be able to evaluate their work and what they did learn.
Enter Explain Everything (YT Channel) This tool supports the evaluation phase. With Explain Everything students can record what they did, include screenshots from Padlet and Mindmeister, talk through the draft phase and explain why it did or didn’t work, what they might have done differently where they went wrong. If they are unable to articulate that, you know they haven’t mastered the topic.
I encourage you to take a look at these three tools. If you’re a student, investigate how they might support you in completing class work. If you’re a teacher consider how you might teach students to utilize these tools in their processing. Even if you aren’t doing a full-blown project, these tools can be incredibly useful for many daily classroom activities as students work to make sense of their world. And who knows, you may be helping invent the lightbulb of tomorrow!
Want to learn more about Edison’s path of learning? Check out this Forbes article on “How Failure Taught Edison to Repeatedly Innovate.”
Carol Glanville, M.Ed.
educator, presenter, strategist, coach, design thinker
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