Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Greatest Hits: Learning from Failure in Challenge Based Learning

As the year ends, I will republish the Drive-thru's five most viewed posts of 2012.  This is #3.

Under other circumstances it might have been a very grim experience for a teacher to listen to one set of students after another step up before the class and boldly expound upon their failures. I can't say I was gleeful, but theses acknowledgements assured me of two things: 1) The students had accepted that their challenge projects were experiments, where perhaps as much could be learned from failure as success. 2) in some cases that they had fell short of success because they or I had set the bar high (I always urge groups to seek a solution worth failing for).

The context for these admissions of failure were "unpacking" presentations for the entire class (I will describe these further in the next post). The groups were asked among other things to weigh two considerations: 1) Had their solution made a "demonstrable difference" in the community they targeted. 2) What hard evidence had they gathered to come to their conclusion in #1.

All of the teams acknowledged that they had not to their satisfaction made a demonstrable difference. In one case the group had determined to meet with a state or U.S. representative and had been led to believe this would happen in three instances (including time with a U.S. Senator), but had the rug pulled out from under them at the last second. There were surely lessons to be learned here, but none to positive about our system of representative government.

In other cases the teams had to admit that their means of assessment were lacking. Perhaps they had failed to do pre-testing, or had not successfully ruled out other variables for cause and effect interpretation. Ironically, the team with the very best assessment methods had to live with the fact that the results did not offer a shred of demonstrable support that their clever solution had made a difference.

Sure I would love to have touted four terrific solutions to incredibly challenging issues. But I also have no qualms about show-casing failure-- as long as it is connected with learning.

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