Questions for “A secret of science: Mistakes boost understanding”

Many kids fear making a mistake will label them as a failure. In fact, science is built on a mountain of mistakes, many made by the greatest minds. The trick is to view each mistake as a step along the path to understanding something better.

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To accompany feature “A secret of science: Mistakes boost understanding


Before Reading:

1. Describe a recent mistake that you made. How did it make you feel?

2. Do you think mistakes can be good? Describe at least one example.

During Reading:

1.  What approaches does Anne Smith use to encourage her science students to embrace mistakes?

2.  What does Stuart Firestein mean when he says that failure “propels science forward”?

3.  Why did Thomas Edison view his failed experiments to make a better battery as important? What did he learn from them?

4.  What is critical thinking, and why is it important for learning?

5.  What surprising discovery did Michael Merzenich make in monkey brains?

6.  What is brain plasticity? Why is it important for learning?

7.  In Jason Moser’s research, how did people’s brains respond to making a mistake? What was different in people who paid more attention to their mistakes?

8.  How does Jo Boaler’s Youcubed program aim to boost adolescents’ confidence in math?

9.  How can mistakes improve learning, according to Janet Metcalfe’s work?

10. How can a fear of failure impair one’s ability to learn?

After Reading:

1.  Think about the mistake you described in the Before Reading question above. What can you learn from the mistake? What might be a next step toward a better outcome?

2.  Imagine you are baking cookies. After the first batch has been in the oven for the amount of time listed in the recipe, they do not look done. What are three possible things that might have gone wrong? Describe how could you test each one?