Failure is an Option?

38 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Students will be able to: use evidence from a non-fiction text in order to write an argument that persuasively develops the claim or counterclaim proposed by the author. Students will be able to: understand that science as a process moves forward, not despite failure, but because of failure.

Big Idea

Scientists, and the process of science itself, are driven by the inevitable mistakes made during inquiry where failure is an option or if failure is something to be avoided.

Instructional Goals

Note: I recommend that you first check out this resource in order to get the most out of this lesson!

The lesson planning document that I uploaded to this section is a comprehensive overview of how I approach lesson planning. With the NGSS coming soon, I re-formatted the template to include the "Big Three" aspects of the standards: Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science Practices. Of course, there are many other worthy learning goals, skills, instructional strategies, and assessments that can be integrated into a class session. In high school I took several drafting classes and, for a while, I hoped to become an architect. With respect to teaching and planning instruction I feel that I can still live out the detailed approach to building something intricate and complex even though the product is a lesson rather than a built environment.

I hope you get some value from my work!

Anticipatory Set ("Hook")

5 minutes

As the new school year begins, I emphasize that the nature of learning and "school" is very similar to the process of science. I begin the lesson by posing the contrasting points-of-view to students outlined on slide 2 of the Failure Prompt slideshow: "Failure is an option" or "Failure is not an option".

I then direct students through a quick Think-Pair-Share discussion. First, I ask students to consider which POV they are more likely to agree with at the present and identify 1-2 supporting reasons (30-60 seconds). Students are then asked to discuss their thinking with a classmate nearby. (2 min).

Next, I solicit student responses from the whole class (the "Share" part of the strategy) (2-3 minutes). I try to avoid evaluating (right vs. wrong) student responses at this time in order to avoid biasing their thinking.

I then probe whether the context of the situation matters. In other words,  do some contexts/situations have no room for error where failure really is not an option? I take a few moments to discuss this with students. If students are not so eager to volunteer I might call on a few students by name.

Instructional Input/Student Activities

45 minutes

1) After students choose either point-of-view, I frame the lesson prompt in terms of those who do exploring, inventing, and inquiring in a scientific/academic sense. I am trying to focus their thinking on the mindset of people who have pushed the boundaries of our knowledge based on a trial-and-error approach which is the core of the scientific method.                                 

2) I then explain that students will read a non-fiction text and, using specific evidence, defend their argument (POV). I show the assignment prompt on slide 3 of the slideshow outlining the standards by which their assignment will be evaluated.  This is one of the first instances when I discuss my approach to using a mastery evaluation system with a grade scale of 4 (exceeds standard), 3 (meets standard), 2 (approaching standard), and 1 (well below standard). So on a regular basis, I clarify what "meeting standard" looks like. An obvious extension from there is what might a 4 or 2 look like? In terms of this prompt, I explain what I am looking like. Typically, it boils down to either an issue of quantity of responses, the quality of responses, or a combination of the two. I frame what the standards are for this assignment before we get going further.           

3) In my school district, each student is assigned a laptop, therefore many instructional resources are accessed digitally. In this case, I direct students to access the National Geographic article (link provided on slide 3) so that all students can read it. As we read the article as a class, I use a "popcorn" style process wherein one student reads a paragraph/section then she chooses the next reader. As a matter of practice, I pre-read all texts in order to identify vocabulary that I think might be a stumbling block.  Therefore, I prefer to periodically stop to assess understanding of key vocabulary and content understanding.                                                                                                                                              

4) Once the article has been read, I direct students to complete the Point-of-View Graphic Organizer with an eye to the claim (or counterclaim) made by the author.                                                                                                                                                                 

5) I then provide time for students to complete the writing task (ensuring that at least five minutes are reserved for lesson closure).

Closure: What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

5 minutes

Having finished the reading and completing the graphic organizer, I solicit the whole class to vote for the point-of-view that they have chosen and defended. A simple method of hands raised could do the trick or, to jazz up the process, use electronic clickers or online polls like PollEverywhere.

I then link the article content to the habits of mind that I want students to adopt in class during the year; particularly 'persistence' and 'taking responsible risks'. These habits of mind, and the resulting cycle of "try, fail (possibly), learn, and repeat" describes the process of science. The next connection I emphasize is that since science is predicated upon this model, then this must be true especially in a science class. I then use this discussion to link to my standards-based grading system wherein students may revise assignments based on feedback and retake assessments.

Lesson Extension & Follow-Up Activities


As an exercise in anticipating counter-arguments, I then assign students the task of listing and describing three situations in which the alternative POV might be acceptable. This could lead to further discussion of situations in which retaking a quiz or redoing an assignment (in a mastery-based course) might not be feasible. In my experience with this approach to evaluation and re-teaching, students eagerly accept the philosophy behind the practice but practical limitations do make it difficult at times to translate into real life.