No mistakes


by Erin Riley -

Acting as a studio and lab teacher requires providing not only materials, inspiration, and a problem to tackle, but also a bit of redirecting student desire to focus on the end product. Conversely, the path of a creative thinker can be a non-linear one, resembling alphabet soup more than a direct path from A to B.  This process requires periodic realignments, or, if the maker chooses, redirections: either edit, or continue.  There are no mistakes on this journey, just decisions.

In Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms, the author emphasizes the value of debugging as an opportunity for children to reframe failure as a chance to learn.  This describes the same creative process to either realign or redirect. Whether working with robots or graphical programming languages, there are no mistakes; like a painter who misses their mark when putting brush to canvas, children should be encouraged to turn their "mistakes into art."  It is at this point that they are faced with the choice that requires full ownership: reframe or realign.

For Papert, a prescriptive curriculum, driven by the teacher, is one that misses more students than it reaches.  A student-centered curriculum reaches everyone.  When we consider a creative practice that does not accept realignments or redirections as mistakes, we put the work fully into the hands of the students who both drive the ideas and curriculum.  When following their interests, students create tremendous opportunities for teachers to make cross-curricular connections.  It requires teachers to be creative planners who learn alongside their students and provide mentorship for a dynamic class.  This model is an antidote to students who have become adept at identifying and presenting the right answer in a classroom setting.  Test taking and assessments places a certain value on “correct.”  We can help students develop creative thinking habits in our maker spaces, art studios, STEAM Labs, and innovation centers.  These are environments rich with objects to “thinker” with, without the pressure of perfection or getting the right answer.  Learning with one’s hands allows every child to be an engineer, inventor and innovator and allows every engineer a chance to be a geo whiz, sculptor or poet.  The beauty is, the journey to learn and create, with all its iterations, edits and reconfiguring of mistakes eventually results in something fully realized. Emerging out of process and mistakes is a new, exciting idea or object, potentially more interesting than the object born out of a prescribed path.

Image:  two iterations of a student's image- drypoint etching and cyanotype sun print