Tag Archives: mistakes

Visual Hexagons

When I last posted about Hexagonal Learning, I mentioned an article I had seen about using Visual Hexagons, which I was eager to try.  So, as my 4th grade students are beginning a unit on mathematical masterpieces, I thought I would use Visual Hexagons to introduce the topic.

Not my best decision ever.

Here’s what I did wrong:

  • I put together a bunch of images that most of the students could not identify.  This made it difficult for them to figure out how they were connected.
  • I forgot to put a guiding question on the paper.
  • Some of the connections were a bit too abstract.  (I had a picture of a yellow spiral, which I was hoping they would see as a “Golden Spiral,” and that they would relate that to spirals in nature such as the ones on the pinecone picture I included.)
  • Some of the pictures were unrecognizable – such as the aforementioned pinecone which appeared to most of the students to be an orderly collection of rocks or fish scales.

untitled-design

Did I do anything right?  It depends on what you define as “right.”  And what you define as me doing…

  • I used Canva to make my Visual Hexagons, which made it very simple to pull pictures into the hexagon-shaped image holders.
  • I accidentally printed to the color printer. But that looked better anyway.  So I printed out 4 more.
  • Once the activity got started, I noticed the students were struggling, so I quickly pulled up a backup plan that is a video on Discovery Streaming about nature, math, and beauty.
  • I was trying to decide at what point I should show the video when two men from the district came into the room to replace my wifi – which meant the students couldn’t research on their iPads anymore.
  • I showed the video (effectively damming the stream of students who were now lining up to ask to go to the restroom – a clear sign of a lesson gone awry), which explained nearly all of the pictures and how they related.

As regular readers may note, I generally share things that have worked well in my classroom on this blog, so you can try using those activities as well.  However, I fear that may have given some of you a distorted version of what goes on when I teach.  I have plenty of epic fails.  I like to share the failures that have some sort of potential as long as you avoid all of the pitfalls I seem to have discovered.

Basically, if you learned from reading this that you should always have a backup plan even when you are really excited about a lesson that you are positive will be engaging, I figure my work is done.

But you knew that already, right?

What Do You Do With an Idea?

The easy answer to the question is to cook it.

But I should probably back up a bit.

All of the elementary GT teachers in our district received a book before the holidays called, What Do You Do With an Idea?  It’s a beautifully illustrated book that figuratively represents a boy’s idea as he conceives it, nearly abandons it, and then nurtures it until it “spreads its wings.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For some reason, I thought this would be a good book to share with my 1st grade GT students.  That was my brilliant idea – and I didn’t ponder it long enough to realize that it was a bad one.

“Have you ever had an idea that you wanted to share, but were afraid other people would make fun of you?” I asked as an introduction to the book.

“Yes!” a 1st grader emphatically confirmed.

“Oh, what was your idea?”

“I wanted to go to my friend’s house,” she said.

So that led to a discussion about what I meant by the word, “idea.”

We finally got to the book.  And, as I started reading it I quickly became uncomfortably aware that I hadn’t looked at the story with 1st grader eyes the first few times I read it.

“Why do you think the illustrator used an egg as the boy’s idea?” I asked.

“I know!  Because he was hungry.”

“It’s not really an egg.  It’s a chicken.  It has feet,” another student pointed out.

Things further deteriorated when I got to the part about the boy “feeding” his idea.  I had apparently chosen the precise time of day to share this story when the distance between breakfast and lunch seemed far too wide to my “starving students.”  Between food and the ambiguity of a walking egg, the conversation wandered quite far from what I had imagined when I put this book in my lesson plans 3 weeks ago.

At home that afternoon, I thought about what had happened to my idea – the great one that I had of sharing this book with my 1st graders, engaging them in a deep, philosophical discussion (as described here), and then asking them to generate a piece of artwork with their own ideas (like these awesome examples).

I forgot to boil my egg.  That was the problem.  I just plucked a raw egg out of the carton and spun it like a top on the table – and it went wildly out of control.

What do you do with an idea?

Boil it in water for 10 minutes.

If it cracks, then you’ll know that it certainly wouldn’t have survived the heat of a room full of 1st graders.

Don’t Blame Me

My daughter is a synchronized swimmer.  One of the little-known facts outside the sport is that these athletes paint gelatin on their hair before a performance or competition to keep their hair up and out of their faces.  The practice is called, “knoxing.”

My daughter had 2 performances on Saturday, and so we began the morning with the tedious process of putting her hair into a bun with a thousand bobby pins, mixing unflavored gelatin with hot water, and applying it to her head.

Unfortunately, something went wrong.  I’m not sure what it was, but the knox looked somewhat lumpy.  By the end of her 1st performance, I realized with great dismay that the knox was in clumps all over her head.

“We’re going to have to re-knox before the next show,” I informed her in the car.

“No!” she pleaded.  “It’s fine!”

“You haven’t looked in a mirror, yet,” I said.  “Trust me, it’s bad.  I’m sorry.  I messed up.  You’re going to have to rinse it all off and we’ll start over.”

Bad knox job

“No, we can just paint over it!”

I shook my head.  “I don’t think that’s going to work.  It looks too awful.”

“But I don’t want to redo it!”

I was about to argue more, and then I stopped for a moment.  Why was I trying to persuade her to redo it?  I hate knoxing.  If neither one of us wanted it done, then why was I insisting?  Was it really for her benefit?

Or mine?

I realized that the reason I wanted to redo it wasn’t because I was worried about her feelings if someone criticized the way her hair looked.  It was because I was worried about what people would think about me.

I could hear the whispers already.  “That mom is horrible.  Look at what a bad knoxing job she did.  And she let her daughter swim that way!”

But glops of gelatin weren’t going to effect her performance.

I revised my statement.  I thought about what she would want – to make her own decision.  “Okay.  When you look at it, if you want me to redo it, I will.”

In a blog post that I once did about Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, I included this quote from his book:  “what people are afraid of isn’t failure.  It’s blame.”

As a parent, I worry that I’m going to get blamed if things go wrong for my child.  It makes me reluctant to allow her to make mistakes, or to sometimes make her own decisions.

As a teacher, I do the same thing.  If a parent questions a decision I made, I fear blame and become defensive.  If a student doesn’t do what I envisioned on a project, I worry that people will think I didn’t teach well enough.

We need to regularly ask ourselves, “Is this about me or is this about the child?”  Often we make decisions that are supposedly the best for the child – but they are really about keeping ourselves from being blamed.

In the end, my daughter decided to allow me to re-knox her hair.  And it looked much better.  But I would have been fine if she hadn’t – and so would she.  That day I learned two things that I should never do:

  • inflict my own insecurities on others
  • put lumpy gelatin on my daughter’s head.
A better job!
A better job!

 

 

Beautiful Oops

Sometimes, like the main character in The Dot, we are paralyzed by the worry that we can’t do something well enough.  And other times, we try to do something well and are devastated when it doesn’t go the way we planned.  Beautiful Oops is a book by Barney Saltzberg that encourages us to make the best of our mistakes.  It is a great book for younger children – full of interactive pages and colorful pictures.

from Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg
from Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

 

While I was looking for resources to accompany the book on the web, I found a great Pinterest Board from @KirstyHornblow that is full of ideas to go with the book.  For example, I am totally going to try the lemon juice/watercolor idea from artprojectsforkids.org.

from artprojectsforkids.org
from artprojectsforkids.org

Beautiful Oops is a nice way to talk about Growth Mindset with young students, and I am definitely going to add it to my Growth Mindset Pinterest Board.

By the way, I added a few extra resources to that board this weekend, including several that I found on Larry Ferlazzo’s site.  The one below, tweeted by @BradHandrich, fits the theme of this post quite well!

How Do You View Your Mistakes?

Make Glorious & Fabyuluss Mistakes

I saw a link on my Twitter feed the other day to a post done by Eric Sheninger called, “Students Yearn for Creativity, Not Tests.”  It’s from March of this year, and I can’t believe I missed it back then.  However, that’s the great thing about Twitter – the treasures come around more than once.

Featured in the post are a few videos created by students based on an assignment they were given which involved reading Sir Ken Robinson’s book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. One of the student videos really resonated with me because of so many other experiences I’ve had in recent weeks that emphasize the value of making mistakes.  The video is by Sarah Almeda, and I highly recommend you watch the video, “Let’s Make Some Good Art” and her “afterword” video which appears at the end of the post.  Her tribute to the educators who fostered her creativity in the latter one is very inspiring.

image by Sarah Almeda
image by Sarah Almeda in her video, “Let’s Make Good Art.”

This year, I really plan to make it my mission to motivate my students to take more risks and challenge themselves.  As Sarah says in her video, though, schools inherently discourage this by punishing mistakes and only rewarding “right answers.”  I have a couple of ideas for changing this in my classroom as I continue to teach my students about having a Growth Mindset (check out my Pinterest Board if you would like some more information about this).

This weeks’s TED Radio Hour was all about making mistakes.  And one of the speakers, Margaret Heffernan, mentioned this about schools: “… we do bring children up to imagine that there is a right answer, and that intelligence is about knowing that right answer, and therefore if you get a wrong answer, you’re stupid. So what we do is we teach people not even so much to have a passion for the right answer, but have great talent for second-guessing what everybody wants the answer to be.”  As Sarah Almeda draws in her video, this is the inevitable outcome in schools that foster this type of thinking:

 

image by Sarah Almeda in her video, "Let's Make Good Art."
image by Sarah Almeda in her video, “Let’s Make Good Art.”

Even James Dyson, in an interview with Science Friday, said the following: “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.” (I’m assuming he meant that students who make more mistakes would get higher grades as opposed to the current system.)

How can we change our current system?  We need to create a learning environment that encourages taking risks in thinking and finding the value in mistakes.   As teachers, it will help for us to admit our own mistakes and to tell how they changed us.  And, though there are times that only one right answer is acceptable, we should also give our students plenty of opportunities to engage in thinking that is open-ended.

I have a small idea germinating about a tangible way to show this in the classroom that I may share later this week…