I'm Tired of Working in a Worksheet Factory

These were the words of a third-grade student as shared by Ron Baghetto, a creativity researcher, during his session on “Possibility Thinking” at SXSWedu.  I chuckled, captured the statement and shared it via Twitter. In most cases, worksheets represent the drudgery of learning in schools and this student comment captured that sentiment perfectly!

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What I wasn’t prepared for was the immediate reaction to this tweet.  Within minutes, there were hundreds of favorites, retweets, and comments from educators and parents who have witnessed a similar student response to worksheet learning.  The quick response both surprised and saddened me. Part of the reason I look forward to attending SXSWedu is that it attracts one of the most forward-thinking and optimistic groups of educators nationwide. Every time I have had the privilege of attending, I have felt like I found my people and yet even among this very forward-thinking group of educators the “worksheet drudgery” experience resonates.  I’m not intending to get into an argument about the merits of worksheets, sure there are probably some worksheets that are valuable(?), but we know most worksheets don’t equate to true learning. Yet we allow (encourage? ignore?) the practice to continue.

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Why?  If we know better, why aren’t we collectively able to do better?   Isn’t this an opportunity for us to impact change? I know we are focused on bigger education issues—equity, poverty, innovation, digital divide… the list goes on and on. But I can’t help but wonder how we can eradicate the drudgery of worksheets that students are experiencing daily.  Sure it’s a small change, but it is defining the learning experience for children in schools everywhere and it’s turning students off to school and more importantly turning them off to learning.

I’d love to hear about your worksheet experiences. How have you made an impact in this area?


What Would Our Museum of Failure Include?

Museum of Failure, Downtown LA

Museum of Failure, Downtown LA

This weekend we headed to downtown Los Angeles to check out The Museum of Failure.  If you haven’t heard of it, you probably aren’t alone.  The Museum of Failure is a relatively new collection of more than 100 innovation failures, conceived by psychologist and innovation researcher, Dr. Samuel West.  Dr. West became tired and fed up with the constant narrative of success and felt that failure was a much more interesting topic to unpack.  The museum first opened in Sweden, but has made it’s US debut in Los Angeles and will be moving on to other cities soon.  Some of the failures were humorous misses (Colgate Lasagna, The Shake Weight or the sexist disaster pen “Bic For Her”),  while other failures were due to a competitive landscape (Betamax), but all led to interesting conversations about the notion of failure.  

In addition to the collection of failure items, the museum had an entire “Failure Confessional” wall dedicated to posting your personal failures.  “I really hope visitors will walk away with the message that you have to accept failure if you want any progress,” said West. “It’s the idea that maybe failure isn’t such a dangerous idea.  Hopefully, this exhibit encourages more companies and people to take meaningful risks while embracing the necessity of failure.”

Giving up on your goal because of one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat.
— Anonymous

This visit to the Museum of Failure got me thinking about failure and our inability to celebrate or even learn from failure in many education circles.  I wonder if we were to create an exhibition celebrating the biggest flops in education what would it include? How would we curate the collection?  While there are a lot of articles about US education failing to meet the needs of students, we aren’t specific about the failures.  Some would argue that using new tech for learning is a massive fail, and yet others are building schools around individualized playlists using tech to facilitate this rote learning.  Do we even have a common definition of failure in education?  Is there a fear of failure in education?   And “if failure is a better teacher than success” than why aren’t we more publicly learning from our failures?

I’d love to hear what you would put in the “Education Museum of Failure.”  Maybe together we could curate our collection and learn from it.