Do We Learn Most of All By Our Mistakes?

I’m a pretty good cook. People say so, anyway.

Do I have a natural aptitude for cooking? Maybe. Did I have good teachers? Perhaps. But, most of all, I was allowed to be curious and learn from my mistakes.

Like the time in junior high when our little kitchen group in cooking class turned up the oven to 450°F degrees to hurry the banana bread along. Earlier, when Mrs. Gies had told us we would have to bake it one day, and eat it the next day, we thought she was wrong. I suppose we were disappointed and suspicious enough to go against her directives. We cranked up the oven (Marlene was the instigator), and the bread raised and browned. It was a beautiful, perfect banana bread, beckoning us to eat it. Ha, we said to our teacher (under our breaths, of course). She was so cautious, and for nothing.

We set the table, poured the drinks, and placed our beautiful banana bread in the center of the table. We knew we were the envy of all the other expectant cooks in the surrounding seventh grade foods class kitchens.

However, when we sliced it, the raw goo, along with any vestige of our cooking cockiness, ran out onto the cutting board. I don’t believe Mrs. Gies “punished” us for going against her instructions. She was a wise woman who knew we learned more from our ruined banana bread than any scolding she could give us.

Another learning experience came the first time I tried to make a favorite family recipe. It was a disaster. The recipe was called Hamburger Pie. I missed a key instruction: brown the hamburger. Yes, I used raw hamburger in this recipe, and it was inedible when it finished baking. Because my older sister patiently explained to me what went wrong and helped me recook the filling so the ingredients weren’t wasted, I was able to learn from my mistakes.

I could go on and on about the mistakes I’ve made in the kitchen–uncleaned shrimp, egg whites that don’t whip in a blender, etc. etc. I am quite sure I have learned more from my mistakes than my successes.

I need to remember this in the classroom. I believe in student-centered learning, lifelong learning, student choice. I believe in STEM education, genius hour, and everything that would say YES to letting students be curious, get dirty, and make mistakes. I have to remember how powerful this kind of learning is.

I hope you are giving your students room to make mistakes!

How have you learned from your mistakes?