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Failures Should Lead to Questions

February 08, 2017
By Dr. Bryan Wolfe

I have spent some time reading about questions lately. When engaging a problem, it is important to address questions rather than statements. Questions will stimulate conversation and opened ended discussion that will facilitate learning. Statements are definitive, and often stop the thinking process and the problem solving progression. Lower School students ask questions naturally, as we get older we often transition to statements. If you had the opportunity to attend the Science Extravaganza, hopefully you were able to visit our new MakerSpace in the high school building. Students and parents alike were challenged with task of delivering marshmallows from one table to another utilizing popsicle sticks and rubber bands in the form of a catapult. This rather ordinary task revealed the difference between statements and questions. Rather than ask about design or collaborate with others in the room through questions, individuals started working on their catapults. While some experienced success, many began making statements, this is hard. I quit. This is stupid. This is impossible…These were some of the most often stated mantras. The task was menial, so the comments were lighthearted, but I do think simple assignments reveal our natural inclination, this is difficult, I will try something else. One of the uses of our new MakerSpace is to teach students to fail. Sounds like an odd concept, but so much of school revolves around avoiding failure, that it has become a skill that needs to be taught. Students need to design, fail, redesign, improve, experiment, and produce. Our hope is that this space will provide an outlet for students to develop in collaborative project learning. Our middle school and high school leadership classes are set for two upcoming projects in the space. Stay tuned for more details, but until then, don’t be afraid to fail, just make sure you continue to move forward in the process. Students learn to ask questions through failure. Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana’s book Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, identifies questions as the most foundational element of thinking. It is our goal to hone this skill in our students as we seek to develop life long learners and problem solvers.

Rothstein & Santana. (2011). Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge.