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Learn to Fail (1)

November 22, 2016 Leave a comment

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This month, at the Substation (Singapore’s Home for the Arts), we have seen an unusual School being set up: the School of Uncommon Knowledge. The idea is to bring all sorts of “lecturers” to teach unusual subjects. The Learn to Fail class was part of the this School, and happened on the 13th and 20th of November 2016.

Can you learn to fail? Is failing a teachable subject? What would such a class look like?

Who are the students? What are they expecting?

Here are some answers, drafted after the class took place. Most answers lead to more questions.

Students (Daytime students of law, biomedicine, medicine, anthropology, but also designers, artists, teachers and man-off-the-street…!) came in out of curiosity. Curiosity is the first step towards new knowledge of course. Curiosity is often fuelled by things that don’t fit, and not understanding what is around, and a desire to resolve the puzzle. So the students were already filtered and on the path to understanding failure.

The class was set up as a practical experimental laboratory. And students were invited to try their hands at the experiments set up. Each of the 3 tables proposed a different challenge and at least 2 ways to answer the challenge. There were no rules as to how many times to attempt the challenge, whether you attempted all or not, and whether you tried more than one method. The idea was to try things, observe and be conscious of your decisions and then eventually discuss the “results” with each other by the end of the session.

The first (13th of Nov) and second class (20th of Nov) were set up in a similar way (3 tables), allowing for returning students to get more in depth into their learning (of failing) and understanding of decision-making.

The goal was to show that really failure can be something to aspire to, and not necessarily something that gets you down (It was established that a “safe” environment with no punishment was essential for this kind of exploration). And the rewards are greater when you can take the more risky route. Rewards came in the form of depth of learning and quality of experience.

We also established that it is more enjoyable to acquire knowledge after having wandered and attempted then failed at answering a question, than before any question is being asked (Think about how much more you remember the answer to a riddle if you have spent a lot of time turning the question to try to answer it rather than just being given the answer just after you’ve been asked it)

From the beginning, it was established that we would be talking about SCIENTIFIC failure – as the motor of scientific progress. This was something that took time to define, the goal being to make even non-scientists accept that the scientific approach can be beneficial for other pursuits.

At the end of the second session, we discussed ideas that came with the notion of “Science”, “Small failures” (Those best avoidable and to be avoided), and “Big Failures” (worthwhile and guiltless, to be pursued).

I will soon post the 3 experiments that were pursued during this 2-class session. In the meantime, you can think for yourself about what these experiments might be.

 

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Categories: Art, Educational, Idea, Science

How to talk about failures to students….

October 11, 2011 1 comment

Republic Poly, Singapore

If you are in Singapore on the 24th of October, take a stroll into LR-W4A at Republic Polytechnic at 4.30pm. It’s out of the way, it’s an inconvenient timing and it will be (half? 1/4?) full of students, the best ingredients for something memorable, even if it’s just the campus. Despite what you might think the poster suggests, there will be no alchemist recipe for turning your failures into success. But if you fail to show up, you might never know…

(of course, if you ARE a student of Republic Poly, attending is a sure way to avoid failing since you’ll be collecting CE points, whatever those are)

Categories: Educational, Poster, Talk

Who Got It Wrong First?

We are always debating on who got it right first. To whom the paternity/maternity of an idea should go to. It goes without saying (and is too often not said) that a fair amount of garbage, mistakes would have been produced in the process of producing said idea, and well forgotten.
This idea resurfaced with this nice article reviewing Gavin Menzies’ book on Leonardo Da Vinci about how

  1. he might have gotten his ideas from the Chinese. And I’m thinking “Didn’t everyone speak Chinese in 15th Century Italy ?”
  2. He made some errors. And I’m thinking: “What! Even geniuses are given flax for making mistakes?”

So, in the light of the controversial book, I thought I should unveil some other overlooked scientists / researchers / idea poppers. These underdogs might be unknown to most people but their ideas live, because someone who speaks the right language took up their idea…

Bose / Einstein

Buang / Wallace (and Darwin)

Constantine Rafinesque / Darwin

This leads to the term of the day: “Rafinesquian”, to mean “rejected for having recognized too many genera and species on the basis of very inadequate characters, the term being one of reproach”.

Categories: Educational, Review, Science

Bad Projects Can Lead To Success

Zheng Lab performing "Bad Project"

Trust scientists to twist things around. When you are caught in a  Bad Project, just turn it into an Award-Winning video, et voilà! Withing a few days, the video went viral and it has already attracted well over one million views.

I would like to point to the creative use of plastic pipettes for a bodice, blue bench protection sheet and orange radioactive plastic as fashion statements. What else can you do when you really can’t read the protocol written in Thai and you don’t know what’s in the tubes?

I am guessing their labcoats are so white because they don’t actually use them in their everyday experimenting…

Categories: Art, Educational, Science, Video

It’s not all about failures

Morgan Giddings introducing her report.

We found this neat little video, that we think takes a fair shot at challenging the notions described on this website. Namely, Morgan Giddings (Professor of Quantum Econobiology no less), has distilled success – quite successfully too.

We downloaded the report according to the instructions (it’s free, so why not), and now we are in the process of reviewing it. We will probably be integrating some of the ideas in our book soon to be published , “Reliquum, a Natural History”.

Go check it out!

Categories: Educational, Science, Video

Announcing: new educational videos

Grow Your Own Failure, Still

"How To Grow Your Own Failure" (Click to view video)

A new field of study would not be complete without its own set of educational videos. We start with instructions on how to grow you own failure.

In this video, you will learn the basics of growing a failure. It doesn’t require any special tools, material or skills. Remember though, that if you do not manage to grow one the first time, just try again, try better.

Categories: Art, Educational, Science, Video
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