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[Teacher Tips] Mistakes

The Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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In “10 Questions for Allan,” Allan Adams is asked how often he makes mistakes. His response is “daily.” Although most adults would not be surprised at such an answer, most of my young students would likely be confused as to how someone who is so smart and successful could make so many mistakes. In their worlds, making mistakes equates to not being smart. It’s so important for me to try to reshape my students’ view of failure, success, and the value of learning through making mistakes.

Students would be interested to learn that many mistakes lead to not only further learning, but also inventions:

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[Teacher Tips] Mistakes-cookie.jpg
How could this ever be considered a faux pas?

Chocolate chip cookies were invented by mistake. In 1930, Ruth Wakefield was running the Toll House Inn and was baking her chocolate butter cookies when she realized she was out of Baker’s chocolate. So she broke pieces of sweetened chocolate into the mix and expected the dough to absorb the chocolate. She was surprised to see that it hadn’t, but the results were equally delicious. We are still enjoying Toll House Cookies today, thanks to someone’s mistake that worked.

The story of how Charles Goodyear invented rubber (as we know it today) is a wonderful illustration of how perseverance and focus, no matter the odds, may eventually pay off. Take a moment to read this fascinating history . of how rubber came to be.

Take young students on a web journey to discover how other mistakes can lead to great ideas like how Saccharin was invented . when a chemist, Constantin Fahlberg, forgot to wash his hands.

Then invite students to write about a mistake they once made that turned out positive.

A little cross-curricular humorous note: I taught my students to use “faux pas” in their writing, instead of “mistake” or “my bad.” On the white board, I mistakenly wrote it as “faux pah.” The next day, my 4th grade students came in and told me I made a faux pas. They were right and now they really understand the term and use it in their writing, too. I couldn’t have planned it any better!