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Week 1: Chapters 1 - 3, Question #2 Which strategy for valuing mistakes...

Which strategy for valuing mistakes resonates with you? What are some other ways to show the value of mistakes?


Kerry Cook's picture

What really challenged me in the section on valuing mistakes was the idea that we need to celebrate mistakes so that students see them as opportunities to learn and grow their brain.  What a radical idea this is in our society where we typically only value the "correct" answer.  The other part of this that struck me was the idea that we typically only ask questions of our students that they can easily get correct, so they are not being challenged to think.  This really motivates me to work to find questions and task with greater challenge for my students.  After reading this part of the book this week, I have been sharing a little of it with my students.  My preliminary observation is that when I shared that mistakes are good because they grow your brain with a class of young adults who are usually are timid about asking questions, I had more students willing to speak up and share what they had done wrong and ask how they could fix it.  I love this!

sadkins2009's picture

I try to get students to understand that by showing their work I can "see" what they were thinking. Then, if they make a mistake I can more easily determine what the missing piece of the puzzle is. This is so cool that your students starting asking more!

Sarah Lonberg-Lew's picture

I recently had a student who was reluctant to share her work at the board because she wasn't sure it was right. I said to her, "If you get it wrong here at your seat, you'll learn from it. If you get it wrong in front of everybody, we'll all learn from it." She barely hesitated before getting up to put her work on the board. As it happened, she had made a great mistake that brought an important point to light!

I have written two blog posts about valuing mistakes and devaluing the right answer. If you're interested, you can read them here:

sadkins2009's picture

Thank you for sharing your blog posts. I added your blog in my Feedly so I can keep up with it!

donnawparrish's picture

It's a happy day when a learner's self messaging switches from "I made a mistake therefore I am dumb" to "I made a mistake now I have a way to know and remember."

sadkins2009's picture

Thomas Edison is credited with saying, "I haven't failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that don't work." I am trying to think of this when students make mistakes. I like to help them see where their reasoning broke down by having them explain to me (without my interrupting). Then go back and work it again alongside their work. Sometimes this helps the student to see what happened.

If I have a whole class working on the same problems, then I like the "favorite no" approach. It allows them to see a mistake without being called out as the one who made the mistake.

Duane Dorion's picture

In the reading about valuing mistakes really resonates with me.  I feel that the best way to learn is to from your mistakes.  I have a saying that I use in class often and goes something like this, "it's not worth waking up each day unless I learned something."  Then I'll ask the students the question, "when do I learn the most."  The students will answer, "When I learn from mistakes.."  I feel that we learn the most from our mistakes.  The big part is hopefully, learning to not make that mistake again.  If we do make that mistake again, we need to learn something different from that same mistakes.  Mistakes happen every day and I feel that is when we learn the most is from trying something new and failing doing so.


MarkTrushkowsky's picture

I'm wondering what folks think about Sara Vanderwerf's Math Wall of Shame - 

It is a collection of photos that a math teacher has gathered from the internet (and the world around her) demonstrating different mathematical mistakes from stores, newspapers, signs, etc. I really like the idea of having students find the mistakes in the photos (some are easier to spot than others). I also like the idea of students learning from the mistakes of others (though I probably wouldn't use the name Wall of Shame), especially ones out in the world since I'd imagine they would start looking for mathematical mistakes in the world. I haven't ever used them with students and I'm wondering if anyone else in the group has and could write a little about how they used them.

Yours in productive struggle, 


Connie Rivera's picture

I didn't like the name either, but I've made peace with it.  Math Fails isn't really any nicer.  My students have liked discussing what they notice.  I recommend putting this in a more public space than just the math classroom.  Mine being in the hallway has caught the attention of students who are not in my class and still sparked some conversations.

Here's another source, though not as classroom-ready:   My newest thought is to include images that are NOT math fails to keep students on their toes.  I think I might have gotten that from following Sara's blog, too.  I haven't collected any yet.

SharonShoe's picture

Tell students that mistakes are opportunities to learn.  We remember the mistakes we make more than the things that we do correctly.  As a matter of fact, I remember a poster from high school choir.  It says... make your mistakes at the top of your lungs.  This poster would be great for math class.