An Epic FAIL

There are many things to celebrate throughout the calendar year, especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. This week in our math classes, we celebrated something out of the ordinary….mistakes. In all middle school math classes, students are on the look-out for math mistakes made by me, their teacher. If classes are able to identify these mistakes, they get a point and can earn a predetermined reward for reaching ten mistakes in a quarter. It’s a great way to keep students engaged in learning (shhhh….don’t tell them!). Additionally, it brings about some great discussions and even arguments (always civil of course) over what is and what is not a mistake. This past week, both the 6th and 8th grade classes celebrated my mistakes during the first quarter. The sixth graders were treated to some of their favorite beverages while the 8th grade enjoyed a “free day” of playing in the gym.  

A familiar saying of students has been “that was an epic fail.” In today’s world, so many students, and adults alike, are afraid of failure and the negative connotation that goes with it. However, there are many lessons and skills to be learned during difficult or trying times. I recently read a book by Phil Knight, co-founder and owner of Nike. He wrote about his humble beginnings and how many, including his parents, doubted and tried to talk him out of his dream of making and selling shoes. He also wrote about how he was not afraid of failure, but just hoped that if it occurred, it would happen quickly so he could move on to something new.

A colleague at GHC has a tremendous acronym for the word fail: a First Attempt In Learning. In other words, there is much to be learned during these times! I experienced this first hand recently as my family took our yearly trip to the Dykstra Orchards to select, cut, and take home our Christmas tree. Everything went smoothly; we found a great tree, cut it down, and tied it to the roof of the van. We stopped for some lunch and then hopped on the highway to make our way home. We were only 3-4 miles down the road when the tree “magically” appeared in my rear view mirror as it bounced and rolled down the highway. I obviously “failed” to properly secure the tree which led to this scene:

Obviously there was much to be learned from this experience. Specifically, next December when we make our way back to Dykstra Orchards, we will have ratchet straps in the vehicle. Furthermore, when trying something new or inventive, you never know how it might work out (it’s safe to say that almost fifty years later, things turned out pretty well for Mr. Knight).

It’s my hope that through counting math mistakes, students will see that failure is not something that defines you as a person, but rather as an opportunity to better oneself as a learner and servant of Christ. Plus, what middle school student doesn’t like a little free time, food, and drinks!