First Attempt in Learning (FAIL): Encourage students to wander into the unknown

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July 25, 2016 by HCDE Communications

shutterstock_265103954As a blogger, I usually focus on well-researched topics that can be propped up with experimental data or content from thought leaders with subject experience.  For this series of blog posts, I’ll try something a little bit different.

When we think about the topic of innovation, we often think about the latest/newest/greatest/flashiest gadget or digital resource.  I’ve been the manager of innovation at Harris County Department of Education for almost seven years now. I have learned this one important lesson about innovation: It is more about risk and failure than anything else.  Just recently, I read something from Jennie Magiera, a former teacher in Chicago and a current edtech leader. She encouraged readers to consider the word FAIL as an acronym for “first attempt in learning.”  I like this view of failure, but how do you do this while still meeting the learning needs of students and encouraging progress?  The following blog post is part one of the lessons that I have learned about innovation, risk and the role of failure in education.

Lesson Number 1:  Encourage students to wander into the unknown.

In educational technology, wandering into the unknown may mean allowing students to make their own determinations about how to use a specific tool or resource to solve a problem.

I once had students do a project on biomes in a biology class using PowerPoint to make a slide show to share with the rest of the class.  At the time, PowerPoint was not used very often for classroom projects. Unbeknownst to me, the students didn’t have a strong understanding of how to use this software. On the surface, this would look like a recipe for disaster. However, what I received from my students were some clever applications of the software.

One group of students used slides as jumping off points for a choose-your-own-adventure game.  Another group used a map that they created with clickable hotspots to teach others more about a subject that they might be interested in about the tundra.  One of my co-teach students (who insisted on working alone) created a powerful image-driven slide show about the erosion of glaciers in the arctic.  He didn’t include a single word of text, just images and background music.

My students wowed me with their creativity and because I never told them how they should use a tool, they discovered novel uses on their own.

During the upcoming months, I’ll be sharing more lessons in FAIL: first attempt in learning. Stay tuned for more installments.

About the Blogger:
David McGeary, manager of innovation at HCDE, spends his days exploring the ways that old and new digital tools and resources can be used to enhance a student’s ability to learn new things, collaborate with learners anywhere and share new ideas with the world. When not hard at work, David enjoys playing classical guitar, practicing photography or doing anything his new wife tells him to do.

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