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A Mythbuster Takes Down Failure

This week in the Michiana area there have been (and will continue to be) a number of fantastic, free learning opportunities all under that coordinated efforts of IDEA week .  The South Bend Mini Maker Faire was one of the first events and along the way Adam Savage, Daymond John, and others will have shared their thoughts on entrepreneurship and creativity.  

Individual sessions and panels on topics such as autonomous vehicles, advanced manufacturing processes and 'smart cities' are offered daily.  The week concludes with a TedX event featuring students from the University of Notre Dame.  

I headed down Monday evening to listen to the ultimate Maker - Adam Savage.  He shared his passion for inventory, love of all things Stanley Kubrick, and how his obsessiveness has lead him to painstakingly make all manner of items.  During the question and answer period he fielded a question about infusing creativity in the classroom and his response was enlightening.  

Savage first made it clear that he is not an educator.  He then went on to say that in his opinion some schools and teachers have been overusing and stressing the word failure.  He quipped 'Failure is getting drunk and missing your kids birthday party.  What failure really means for kids is, it didn't turn out the way you thought it would, and that's great, that's why we do these things.  We make things because it's interesting and didn't turn out the way we thought it would.  That's life!'  

I instantly started replaying conversations in my mind where I had used the word failure with teachers.  I have seen the acronyms for FAIL - first attmept in learning - and many other takes, but what he said really resonated.  These student attempts are not 'fails.'   Failure is just too harsh a word to use with kids, it doesn't belong in schools.  

I encourage you to think about how you have approached this with your students and think about updating your messaging.   In the future I'm going to replace the word with the phrase 'it didn't turn out the way you thought it would.'  It might be tough to make an acrostic poem out of - but I think the change is important.


  1. Joe,

    Thanks for sharing. I, too, have had those conversations and always found myself trying to walk it back in conversations because of the negative connotation of the word fail. I like Adam's way of saying it better as well. I will share out what I learn tomorrow!

  2. Thanks for sharing Dan. I like how 'it didn't turn out the way we thought it would' becomes the incentive for the activity. I don't think too many students would set out to fail, but they may set out to find a different way.

  3. Thanks for sharing.I found a lot of interesting information here. A really good post, very thankful and hopeful that you will write many more posts like this one.
    - earn to die


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