Give Them Room to “Just Do the Thing”


High school history teacher Diana Laufenberg has witnessed some amazing learning—and learned to step back and allow her students to fail along the way.

In this brief TED Talks video, Laufenberg discusses how profound changes in the information landscape have altered education, opening up opportunities for experiential, student-centered learning focused on exploration and creativity. During her father’s childhood, she explains, kids went to school to gain information; school was where the information was. When she was a kid, her parents bought a set of encyclopedias and, as the locus of information shifted to include her home, education shifted as well. Students in the public high school where Laufenberg now teaches each have a laptop that is fully connected and portable. If information is everywhere, what is school for? Laufenberg argues for learning as a creative process involving failure, processing failure, learning from failure, and trying again. School is no longer about accessing information—kids can do that anywhere; school can now be about playing with information. Want to hear more about the kinds of activities that have opened up these types of learning experiences for Laufenberg’s students? Click here for the full 10-minute video.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear (of Failure) Itself

Image by Vancouver Film School*

The eighth annual Teens and Entrepreneurship Survey, conducted in August 2010 by Junior Achievement (JA), an organization that prepares students for success in the global economy, reveals contemporary teenagers’ concerns about their futures. According to a press release, out of 1,000 respondents between the ages of 12 and 17, 51% want to eventually start their own business, but 74% see risk and failure as the biggest obstacles in their path. An overwhelming 84% of young people believe business initiative should be taught in school, and 34% identify imagination and creativity as the most important assets for marketplace achievement. With regard to the aforementioned anxiety felt by aspiring entrepreneurs, JA USA President and CEO Jack E. Kosakowski says, “[T]he time is now to teach them those essential skills to overcome that fear.” One way of addressing this need is to encourage students to re-engineer their conception of failure by teaching them “failing well”—that is, preparing them to learn from failure rather than feel ashamed of it and avoid it at all costs. Educators should work to foster this ability, an essential one for all potential innovators. Overall, the Teens and Entrepreneurship Survey shows that American kids are ambitious, aware of imagination’s economic power, and intent on having schools offer them knowledge that will fuel their professional careers. By “[b]ringing the concepts of entrepreneurship and innovation into the classroom,” JA is responding to that demand—but others must join in the effort.

There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

Fail to Succeed

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Image by CCK Mom*

Image by CCK Mom*

Sometime between childhood and adulthood, we become afraid of failure. As kids, whether we’re wrestling with watercolors to create a coherent painting or struggling to ride a bicycle or getting the hang of rope climbing in phys ed, we understand intuitively that failure is inevitable and acceptable and that we can learn from it. But as we grow up, all too often we become conditioned to see only “right” and “wrong” answers where we once saw infinite possibilities. Disapproving glares and snickers—wherever they come from—drive us to fear failure, to cover it up, to toe the line. Fortunately for me, an early mentor offered a much different philosophy. Continue reading