Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Finding Value in Mistakes


There's a common story that circulates about 
"success and failure".

The story goes that "Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb".  When asked about it, Edison allegedly said, "I have not failed 1,000 times.  I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb."

The idea is that -- even if you try and fail, it doesn't mean that you didn't learn something.

Education, like everything else since the industrial revolution is a product driven system. High stakes standardized testing has only served to perpetuate this, in valuing only correct responses as opposed to placing value in the process of determining that correct answer.  How can students, learn to appreciate
the skills of critical thinking if they are not encouraged to value porcess?

One method I have incorporated in my classroom, is to focus on the incorrect answers.  I will use scenarios and multiple choice questions to ask students not only to find the correct answer, but to explain why the other possibilities are not acceptable solutions or how other students may have determined the incorrect choices.  When students have to deconstruct the solutions they really begin to think about the process involved in finding the solution.  As students become better at evaluating the incorrect answers, they also become more effective at correcting their own work when they make a mistake.  Students also find it easier to assist other students when they make mistakes.   

An example in math might be:

What is the product of  34  x 12?

a)  46     b)  102       c)  308     d) 408       

   34      The correct answer is d) 408.    
x 12

a) 46  A student would have added instead of multiplied to get an answer of 46.    34 + 12 = 46

b) 102  A student would have calculated an answer of 102 if they did not place a zero in the ones column when they began multiplying by the tens value. 

x 12
_ 34

c) 308  The student did not carry the one after adding the 
6 and 4.  

x 12

A chemistry example might be:

From the following, choose the correct balanced chemical equation.  Explain why the other choices are not correct.

a)   H2    +    O    ----->     H2
b)   2H    +    O    ----->     H2
c)   2H2    +    O   ----->     2H2O  C is the correct equation.
d)   2H   +    2O    ----->     2H2

Each of the other equations are balanced.  They are incorrect because Hydrogen and Oxygen are diatomic molecules in their gas state and must to be H2 and O2. (H, O, N, Cl, Br, I, F)

When students are engaged in the critical thinking process of deconstructing incorrect answers, they gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the process of learning. Incorrect answers can sometimes have a far greater value for learning than simply being correct.

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