Today is science experiment day. You’ve collected all of the necessary supplies, you have instructions, and your kids are excited! This experiment is going to be so much fun, you think, patting yourself on the back. Hands-on science for the win!
Or not, because something goes wrong:
the seeds don’t sprout
the seeds mold or die before your kids take measurements
the water clock doesn’t tell time
the explosion is a dud
The tricky thing about science experiments is they can flop or not work as expected. What do homeschoolers do when an experiment doesn’t go our way? We turn it into a new lesson, maybe one not related to science, and try, try again.
One of the first science experiments I did with my homeschooler was a giant failure. Our mission was to make a water clock, and no matter what we did or how many times we did it, all we did was get wet. I remember being frustrated and how my frustration changed the way my son was experiencing the challenge. He started to lose interest in figuring it out because I was so hung up on getting it right.
In the end, we abandoned the experiment. Seven years later, I can’t tell you how to build a water clock successfully, but I can tell you (thanks to many more experiments failing), how to embrace the failure and turn the experience around.
What can we do when our homeschool science experiment fails? Here are some ideas to flip the script and redeem the disaster.
1. Teach Failure as Part of the Scientific Process
The Wright brothers’ plane repeatedly crashed before they were successful, and it took Thomas Edison 1000 tries before he created the lightbulb. The article, Why the Best Scientists Fail, Again and Again, says, “failure is an intrinsic part of science.”
Instead of setting our experiments up with the expectation of success, let’s embrace the power of failure. Let’s teach and talk about how failure is part of the experiment. When we embrace failure, we learn from it.
2. Shift the Learning
Instead of being upset that the seeds molded instead of sprouting, we put the seeds under the microscope and check out the mold. Or we talk about how mold grows and try to figure out why mold grew on our seeds and what we can do differently next time.
There are learning opportunities everywhere, especially when things don’t go as planned. Ms. Frizzle has told us for years to get messy and make mistakes. Making mistakes is how we learn.
3. Practice a Growth Mindset
One of the best things we can model and teach our children is how to keep on keeping on even when we fail. A failure is not an endpoint; instead, it’s an invitation to try again.
Maya Angelou said, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.”
A growth mindset helps us pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and keep going.
I wish I could go back to my son’s and my failed water clock. I wish instead of getting annoyed with the experiment and determining it a waste of time, I’d leaned into play.
Maybe if we’d laughed off our challenges and kept trying, we would have figured it out. Or perhaps we would have learned something new. Either way, even if we never got the clock to work, we could have practiced having resilience, had a lot more fun, and would probably have been eager to try again.
4. Let the Kids Lead
On more than one occasion, when I was having a hard time explaining something, one of my homeschoolers took a look at the directions or materials and figured it out. Sometimes directions take another set of eyes or a younger mind!
If you’ve homeschooled for any length of time, you know kids are great teachers. If something is not going well, let them take the lead, try out their ideas, and see what they find.
5. Seek Outside Help
We are so lucky to have a world of help at our fingertips. Be it YouTube, fellow homeschoolers, or the curriculum company, there are many resources to help us make sense of our science experiments.
Science experiments should be fun and fascinating! They help our kids experience the concepts they are learning in a completely different way than by reading a book or watching a screen. That doesn’t mean they are easy or always have the outcomes we desire.
If we remember to enjoy the process, lean into failure, and ask for help no matter our results, a positive learning experience will happen.
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