STEM Students Must Be Taught to Fail

They must know how to fail so they can get back up again and learn from their failure.

Coteaching can help educators address a variety of learning levels in one high school classroom.
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[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Foreign STEM Graduates Get Green Cards?]

Once in the game, let's regularly try to fall—and when we do fall, let's be ready to admit it publicly. The taboos associated with failure mean we often avoid talking about it—and, consequently, avoid reflecting on it to think what we can do differently next time.

One of my most memorable moments as a student was my esteemed professor at an elite university showed me all of his rejection letters from all of the major publishing outlets. The rejection letters questioned his expertise and the value of his contribution. The letters were dated from the beginning of his career to the present year. At first, I was shocked that such a perfect scholar still received rejections to this day. And then I felt empowered knowing I could receive those letters and still go on to make an impact in the world.

By telling our students stories of how we failed and then got back into the game, we will model the most successful approach to STEM subjects far more effectively than if we simply tell them the final score. The result will be students who understand that the answers to today's pressing challenges demand a trial-and-error approach.

Failure is inevitable and a healthy sign of trying to solve these problems. Without a coach by your side, failing alone can hurt—and it can be much harder to get back up. As Einstein is also supposed to have said, "Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means."

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