Op/Ed: Why Students' Failing is Good for the Future Economy

Every inventor in history has failed more often than he or she has succeeded. Hands-on teaching allows kids to fail -- and to thrive.

Creative play can foster innovation.

STEM experts at a recent symposium on Capitol Hill said diversity is an important aspect of STEM education that needs to be addressed.

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There is a stigma around failing in today's society, and we've all experienced it. But we need to get rid of this stigma in today's classroom. Every inventor in history has failed far more than they've succeeded, but they have learned from those mistakes and ultimately were successful.

This is why hands-on teaching solutions offer students the opportunity to create, build, fail and try again. With more than 30 years of experience in understanding how children learn, LEGO Education believes a hands-on, minds-on approach helps students actively take ownership of the learning process and develop 21st-century skills such as creative thinking and problem solving through real-life, engaging experiences.

Providing a framework for learning how to systematically and creatively solve problems is preparing students for future jobs. Sixty-five percent of today's children will end up at jobs that haven't been invented yet. But at the very root of education reform should be preparing our children to become valuable members of the next generation job force. As technology continues to evolve, even the basic computer skills required for today's jobs have been adopted by children at a very young age. There's no way to predict what an engineering, computer science or developer job will look like in 20 years – in fact, who knows if these jobs will even exist then!

So how do you prepare kids for jobs that haven't even been invented yet? No matter the area of focus, every job will require blended abilities of not just hands-on skills, but communication and other collaborative skills as well, enabling employees to work effectively with colleagues halfway across the world.

I will argue that rather than teaching our children to memorize and recite facts, we need to make sure they are engaged in creative problem solving. To reform education, we must start with fostering each student's creative leadership in the classroom if we're to successfully prepare them for jobs of the future. Tapping into individual creative leadership will drive improvement and enable us to deliver a learning outcome that responds to both the need of the individual and to the changing needs of society.

Standardized testing in many ways encourages students to succeed with one answer, but in the real world it's not about one answer. Companies want multiple answers to the same problem so that they can choose which fits the organization best. We should be focused on teaching our students to have process skills, enabling them to create innovative and surprising solutions to new problems, rather than regurgitate the solutions to problems of the past. Students failing and failing often is a critical part of how the creative and engineering process works, which helps them develop the tenacity and ability to adapt to change. When kids fail, they fail with a recognition of what is at risk – it is better to fail early, rather than fail as an adult, when the consequences are greater.

When we provide children with tools and programs through which they have free-form ability to create or resolve problems, without the restriction of having a 'right answer,' we eliminate inhibitions and promote creativity – helping them develop the tenacity and ability to adapt to change that is so highly valued by business of today, and of tomorrow.

This means failing often and early, and trying again. With an established learning progression, students are engaged and ultimately we are creating the next generation of problem solvers the world needs.

Stephan Turnipseed is the president of LEGO Education North America and the chairman of P21.

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