Can we help your students fail?

We love it when science makes it to the movies. So, we’re looking forward to seeing Benedict Cumberbatch play Thomas Edison in The Current War. We’ve heard mixed reviews, but if anyone’s going to enjoy a film about the introduction of competing electric power transmission systems in the 1880’s, it’ll be us.

Edison, arguably America's greatest inventor, knew the value of failure. He made over a thousand unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Later when asked by a reporter, ‘How did it feel to fail a thousand times?’ Edison replied, ‘I didn't fail a thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with a thousand steps.’

We help students learn science. It’s in our company name. So unsurprisingly eyebrows rise when we tell people we help students fail. Shouldn’t our mission be diametrically opposed to failure? No. Failure should be embraced.

This month Emily Coyte and I attended the 44th FEBS Congress in Krakow, Poland. The theme was ‘from molecules to living systems’ and the wide-ranging agenda gave us plenty to think about.

I gave a talk on undergraduate teaching laboratories and the transformative impact of learning technologies. I talked about failure, and found the theme resonated with the audience.

What defines a successful experiment? What defines failure? All experiments have outcomes, and those outcomes enable students to better understand their subject, and to refine their hypotheses and methodologies.

Pedagogical ‘best practice’ is often overly prescriptive and can only push knowledge so far. To really get beneath the skin of the science students need to feel comfortable running experiments which don’t provide the results they anticipate.

These aren’t failures, they’re outcomes. Experiences and findings students can work with and learn from.

Our resources provide a way for students to test their thinking, fail fast, reset their aim, and go again. They can even get to failed outcomes without setting foot in the lab.

With pre-lab resources from Learning Science students can test their initial thinking safely, and reconsider accordingly. This brings a confidence to students which helps them see that failure is an essential part of learning.  

If we had the chance to meet you at the event in Poland, please keep in touch. And if not, it’s never too late to find out how we can help your students learn science by embracing failure.

Let’s talk soon

Bill