I made a mistake last week during one of my class's online quizzes, I made a very simple mistake in the setup of the question. Whenever this happens I am usually alerted by an industrious student, and fix the mistake.
During a previous class I shared a list of questions I had to answer when writing a student recommendation for an internship. One of the questions we discussed was "Does the student ask for help when needed?" In most situations it is preferable for someone to ask questions in order to know what they should do, than it is to have someone perform work they do not know how to complete. The time in detecting these errors, fixing them, and mediating any negative consequences is considerable, not counting money or other resources. No wonder an employer would want an intern (or employee) to ask questions when confused.
So this error cropped up in an online quiz, and we just talked about asking for help when needed. So I naturally asked "How many students will send me a message?", if they really listened to our discussion of this question they would ask for help when needed. Out of 29, 3 students sent me a message asking about this question. Ok, so they didn't hear me, not a big surprise. Whenever I talk about topics that are not math (study skills, organization, soft skills, group work, etc.) students usually tune out.
In class the next day I shared the story of the Mars Climate Orbiter. Long story short, a $350 million probe burned up in the Martian atmosphere because someone did not check the units of a calculation. This definitely go their attention, as it usually does; no one expects literal rocket scientists to make mistakes, let alone really simple ones. After talking about the orbiter I had a few questions for students:
- Was this a preventable mistake?
- Was this a significant mistake?
- Do you think NASA learned from the mistake?
- How many people here have made mistakes in their classwork during the last week?
- How many people learned from those mistakes?
- Are your mistakes preventable?
- Are your mistakes significant?
- Did any of your mistakes cost $350 million?
- Do you have space in this class to make mistakes through unlimited attempts completing homework questions, Quiz corrections, and working with others in class?
We had some real-talk on making mistakes in math, and how they are part of learning the course material. By making it clear that I expect students to make mistakes ("Make them early and often.") and to learn from them I hope to lessen student fear of making mistakes, the stigma associated with them, and to reframe student's expectations of me. I regularly ask students to reflect on making study plans, if they were able to follow their initial study plan, what factors prevented them from following their plan, and what they are going to do in the future to prevent these factors from getting in the way.
In the future I would like to do a few things with this theme of making mistakes:
- A POGIL-like activity where students read through a description of the Mars Climate Orbiter, and come to some of these conclusions themselves.
- Demonstrate the role reflection plays in learning from mistakes.
- Tie this into the growth mindset, a very natural place to discuss these issues.
How do you address mistakes in your classroom? Do you do any specific activities with students to frame mistakes as learning opportunities?