BREAKING: Science Classroom Embraces Failure?


The above article is a great idea for use in the classroom!

Okay, maybe not so breaking.  Science as a subject has been “embracing failure” since…well, since forever.  Pick any famous scientist, and through any experiments or learning journeys they embarked on, they had plenty of failures.  This blog post explains it perfectly:

Science as a whole has been embracing failures for centuries, and science classrooms should absolutely be doing the same.  Creating an environment that allows students to fail creates a thriving, motivational classroom.  An environment that embraces failure is key to having intrinsically motivated students.

It’s been proven time and time again that intrinsic motivation makes students more willing to truly learn information, and improves long-term true understanding of material.  Using treats and pizza parties works for some situations, but a dream classroom is a classroom full of students who want to learn, not students who have to be bribed to learn.


How do we do this?  I have some thoughts:

Make homework (and classwork) meaningful.

I don’t know about you guys, but anytime I HAVE to do something, it automatically makes me not really want to do it.  Students are the same with homework and busywork.  However, if we give students work that actually means something–work that they are interested in–then the homework will peak their interest rather than diminish it. Then when grading this work, focus more on how they were thinking about the questions rather than whether or not they got the right answers.

-Apply teaching in the margins as much as possible.

Don’t be afraid of getting away from the curriculum!  Students aren’t going to fail the standardized tests on your subject just because you’re a few days behind schedule.  Encouraging students to wonder and ask deep questions will help foster a more goal-oriented classroom.

Have students write their goals on a strip of paper, then make a paper chain to represent class goals made up of student goals!

-Instead of giving a grade, give feedback.

Try a weekly grading report; give students anonymous access to their grades, and have students graph their progress on a chart, then write a bullet point or two to describe 1) what they felt confident in that week and 2) what they felt they needed more help on.  When it comes to grading assignments, allow students to see it more as “I need improvement” than “I got a bad grade”; again, encourage the failure part of it!  It’s okay if you need to improve, there is NOTHING wrong with that!

The “Charlotte’s Web” example is a great technique for classrooms; give students freedom in how they do assignments and allow them to express their knowledge!

-Praise EFFORT, STRATEGY, and GROWTH, not just results.

Encourage students to be bold in giving answers.  Praise their creativity and curiosity instead of shooting down “wrong” answers right away, as tempting as that might be.  Be careful when students give a wrong answer to not correct them right away; instead, encourage them to think about what might be a better answer.  This will make students more excited to learn instead of just focusing on getting right and wrong answers.

-Get to know each student personally.

This will allow you to connect content with whatever the students are interested in.  In order to peak students’ interest in your curriculum, you have to know what interests them in the first place!  Also, assign teamwork based on student interests for a specific topic; allow students to have freedom in what topics they delve into!

These are just some techniques that will create an environment encouraging intrinsic motivation.  Find what’s inside your students and bring it out of them–they are all unique individuals who can learn in completely different, incredible ways!  Do what you can to find what motivates them, and do everything you can not to destroy that motivation–even if it means something as crazy as embracing failure.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!



About Naomi Patten 13 Articles
Future Science Educator Miami University Class of 2019 Follow me on Twitter @MsPattenScience


  1. Naomi,
    I love the concept of promoting failure as a typical process in science, as most people don’t see it that way. They think that every great scientist must have come up with their great ideas out of nowhere, and that they just stumbled on them with very little reference to their failures. Bringing back the idea of the margins is awesome, and I love that! Making things meaningful and important to students is the most important part of learning, and I’m glad that you represented it well! Good work!

  2. Your idea for this blog is outstanding! Failure has always been a necessary part of learning and growth as a scientist, and I think the fear of failure/being wrong is a huge problem in the education of science today. I also thought your point about giving reliable feedback *cough* something something formative assessment clear learning targets student ownership something something *cough* instead of grades is awesome as well! Students can’t grow and learn from an arbitrary letter grade, but they can learn if you’re constantly giving them support and help.

    • You’re exactly right, Aesa! Fear of failure has the power to diminish motivation and anything encouraging in the classroom, and we need to change that. Also, students learning from support is exactly what I’m going for–letter grades are fine, but they need to actually MEAN something!

  3. First of all, I love the way you approached the format of your blog. It is very anecdotal and you use specific memories that you have in school that you relate to motivation which makes it so much more personable. The idea of praising students for their growth and personal improvement rather than their results and test scores. This was my favorite point that we talked about in our class discussion because students may put forth minimal effort and still be able to ace the tests. They aren’t being challenged while there are many students who will make significant improvements and put forth a lot of effort and can increase their understanding and comprehension of material over time and still may not get a perfect grade on formal assessments. I also love the points you make about connecting to students personally. This can make a huge difference in the classroom environment and can help the students and teachers learn so much more about each other before developing their plan for learning. Loved reading your blog and your sarcastic “breaking news” introduction to the blog. Great job!

    • Hayley, that’s exactly what I was thinking! Grades aren’t a fair judgment of true learning, and students are all starting at different places. We need to challenge both the kids who ace the tests and the kids who struggle with test taking! And connecting to students personally is a great start to finding what challenges and motivates students. If a student is being challenged (in balance, of course) they will then be motivated to succeed, without candy as a prize.

  4. Naomi,
    I loved the title to this post! It was attention grabbing and really got me thinking. I also really liked how you laid out the entire post. It made it very easy to follow and pointed out a lot of important aspects of Drive. You made the content relatable, which I really enjoyed. For example, when you discussed making work meaningful, you mention that anytime you have to do something, you end up really just not wanting to do it. I’m pretty sure that all of us have been there at one point or another in our lives, and making that standout is something you did a really nice job with. Another thing I enjoyed was when you talked about getting to know your students. This is absolutely essential. Without knowing the students, it is nearly impossible to do the other things you discussed effectively.

    • I absolutely agree! Making work meaningful is super applicable in all of our lives; and getting to know students is the key to finding what motivates them!

  5. I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I really liked how you were emphasizing failure is a good thing. Many students get discouraged when they fail, but you made very good points on how to keep them motivated if they experience failure. I also like how you connected science to failure. This will help students know that even scientists fail and make mistakes.
    I really like your paper chain idea for displaying students goals! This is a great way for them to visually see how many amazing goals they all have for the year. Your statement on making homework and assignments meaningful is also really important. Many teachers just do things because they are time filling and maybe help reinforce the learning. By giving students more meaningful assignments they are more likely to want to do them and will see more benefit in doing them.

    • That’s exactly what I was thinking! Homework should go beyond reinforcing what was learned in the classroom; it should add something new to the lesson, or else it’s mostly pointless and not intriguing at all. Also, failure in science is super important, and I think embracing failure is key to becoming more intrinsically motivated!

  6. I like the way you describe intrinsic motivation throughout your post. It seems like you want your student to be motivated by mastery of the topic and knowing they did it themselves. This is something that applies to many different facets of our life. Doesn’t a meal taste better if you made it yourself? The same principle applies here. Knowing that one did something by themselves gives you more satisfaction once the objective has been completed.

    • That’s exactly what I was thinking; and that’s why embracing failure is so important for intrinsic motivation! If you make a meal and it’s a total flop, it’s tempting to quit–but the next time you try, you’re going to be more internally motivated to make a good meal. The same applies in the classroom!

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