I failed at ISTE and it was fantastic! Discovering the Three Laws of Failure

We instill in our children and students the lesson that failing is part of learning, part of life. Failing is good. Failing is real. The action of failing in the classroom has been transformed into an opportunity for achievement. Failures are the building blocks toward success. Michael Jordan failed. Einstein failed. We show examples of the Wright brothers taking a few for the team before they flew. Students, staff, and faculty have heard me say that “Failure is only one of the outcomes resulting from the positive action of your creativity.”

We are applauding failures in the classroom. We cheer when the code our children write does not work. Iteration becomes the norm as students work through their failures in real time. We cheer even louder when one student’s failure becomes another student’s opportunity to help. We go nuts when, at the last minute of class, a student’s redesign, rewrite, and replace results in a successful outcome.

So when was the last time you failed? When was the last time that you were cheered on at every stage of your failure? Can you remember the last time something took you twenty, maybe thirty tries to complete? Have you achieved the prize of failure while you were writing that lesson plan, creating PD for staff, or designing a formal assessment strategy? Granted, failure is best served while being observed. As teachers, we most often assume the role of the observer. As the expert in the classroom, we typically set the pace as such. I have fake-failed to my students to show them what a wrong answer may look like. I have let them correct me when I knowingly did a computation or process wrong. When was the last time you actually failed on your own, when information was new to you, with no safety net, while being observed?

For me it happened at ISTE this summer. Failure happened while sitting in the last row of a room, in what seemed to be the farthest location from the energy of ISTE. Sitting with 12 others in Franklin 11, we began our journey together with Jana Sebestik and George Reese from the University of Illinois Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education to Turn on the Lights! using copper tape circuitry, LEDs, sensors and microcontrollers.

I lost count of the failures after a while. Maybe this time… Nope…  What if I do?… Nope…  Oh wait,  If I do this…Nope. We were all struggling. What happened in the midst of our struggles? We began helping each other. I’d look over to see someone either a few steps behind or looking over their shoulder to what I had completed. No one was sitting on a chair for more than a few moments. The class became a fluid, living space of work-arounds, attempts, failures, sighs, and laughter. Borrowing ideas, asking for help, and offering assistance gave us all a view of the student centered activity that we orchestrate for our students but rarely operate in. Each time someone got a step further we all felt good and cheered on their success.

We were being guided brilliantly by the session presenters. It was at that moment I realized that I am actually in a classroom setting that I have been providing for my own students for 20 years! I was in a classroom and I was failing! It was marvelous!

Failure was an option. In fact, it was the option. What wasn’t an option though? Neatness. There were instructions, conductive tape, wires, LEDs, parts and pieces everywhere. Each of our neat, manilla folders, full of materials, given at the beginning of the session, became strewn across 3 feet of table space. I was amazed to see that every single person at this session helped clean up. I don’t mean just our own space either. We we rolling up cords, making sure items were put in the correct boxes. The pride in our failures led to pride in the workspace and the desire to prepare it for the next session.

Getting back to my failure. As the session continued on, I discovered what I now refer to as  “The Laws of Failure”, and they proved true. I have written them in reverse order as my actions revealed them the way they occurred to me. The “Third Law of Failure” is for every iteration made, an equal and positive motivation surfaces. The increase in my motivation resulting from the increase of iterations became the acceleration in relation to the second Law of Failure. The “Second Law of Failure” is that the effort put forth into the project grows proportionately to the pride felt, both expanding constantly as the result of increasing motivation. I found that the “First Law of Failure” is true and absolute. The “First Law of Failure”, is that when at rest, failure is failure….when put in motion and acted upon, failure leads to success. The envelope wasn’t open, the LED did not light, success was not achieved, until I was able to fail.

And then, the LED lit! The world was turned upside down, or inside out, or contrary-wise. Something happened that just an hour before was unimaginable, or unattainable, or unachievable. The light emitting from this LED seemed to be the most powerful light source I had ever experienced. Bathed in this light, I was proud to succeed in this session, proud to be at ISTE, proud of my Ignite, proud of my family. The educator that left that room was more proud of his profession than he could ever have imagined.

I failed at ISTE this year and it was fantastic!


The Steps to connection: Preparing students for programming.

Magic Fingers (and a song): The Startup Phase

Moments from now, my lab will burst to life as twenty 6 year olds enter for their first class with me. It is one of the most tremendous experiences I encounter all year.  That first day with my first graders is… magical.

“This is Mr. Luetjen”, the kindergarten teacher tells her students. The students are in a straight, quiet line with two fingers in the air and another finger covering their mouth.  (A sort of ctrl, alt del real-life reset, a way for the students to take a moment and the Ahh Ha! moment for Mr, Luetjen) “He is the computer teacher”. “You are going to have computers next year.” “That’s so exciting, isn’t it?” Fingers begin moving and smiles peek out from behind the other finger that is giving the signal for quiet.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are five or six years old. Now imagine that you were just told that one of the things that you do at home that is SO AWESOME for you, is going to be a part of your school week next year. Every week you get to go to computers.

I stopped typing at this point last night and turned in for the evening.

I came back to work on this today and at the bottom of the page was the following…

Qv  N                QQ                                                                                                                                                                                    ““““““““““““““““““““““““““““

]\\\\            ~ vc     ]{“  khggmlkln!


My 17 month old had gotten hold of the keyboard.

As I was processing the irony, or coincidence or universal meaning of how her actions related to the title and theme of the article, I decided to post this introduction before I continued with the rest.

She’s up from her nap… Until tomorrow then.

The Steps to connection: Preparing students for programming.

It’s about control really.
How then, do we get 5th graders to be in control of an environment that has had them controlled since they first learned to swipe on a parents’ mobile device?
“Aww, look what Jimmy can do”!

The Startup
The g word
Magic Fingers and a song
This is hard
The Buy-in
Peanut butter and Jelly in a nut free school
Group work in this class?
Throwing Cards
The Try-in
I know that
Bots of light
And the winner is
Female tech
Logo A GoGo
Slow and steady wins the race
Button pushers
Critical Clicking

The Startup
The start up phase lasts four years. It’s a wonderful journey. As captain, I cherish each child’s voyage and every moment of their discovery.

For years my students have been responding to buttons that appear, images to chase, shoot or run from. Children have been exposed to technology in a way that I can best described as backwards. They are being pushed rather than doing the pushing.
Much, if not all of that technology exposure must be re-mastered and redefined.
I have to give you some background before I continue with my fifth graders and their programming. By the time the 5th grade student enters my classroom I have already been his or her tech teacher for four years. My students start with me in first grade. So, in my lab the students grow from 6 year olds holding up their “magic fingers” (ctrl, alt, del) and singing a grade level username and password to log in, to 5th graders who can write and run programs.
I’ve found that the most effective way to begin the learning process of programming, in fact educational technology in general, is to first start by changing vocabulary in the classroom.

The G word

“Mr Luetjen doesn’t let us use the G word in class. We don’t play games at school. We do online activities.”
That’s correct, I don’t allow students’ to use the word Game in class when referencing the websites they engage in. What we do in my classroom are online activities.
Almost every first grader associates the word ‘computer’ with the word ‘game’ with the word ‘internet’. It is important to have a separation from computer play at home and what happens in the computer lab. What they do at home with their computer is often drastically different from what’s expected of them in a computer lab.
A simple change in vocabulary is enough to begin the separation from home to lab. It also marks the beginning of the students’ control over their tech environment. I have to re-engineer their thoughts, feelings, and experiences and, I must confess, attitude, towards tech that they have grown accustomed to.
Math at home is an extension of the math learned at school. As a computer teacher, I don’t share that luxury with the math teacher. Computer use at home by a first grader is, most times, completely opposite of what happens in the lab. On the first day of school, the children are wide-eyed with oh-my-god-we-get-to-play-games-once-a-week-in-the-lab look about them.
A website that my students are engaged in during class may have the appearance or the look or interaction of games they play online at home. With the change in vocabulary, I can increase their awareness of the STEM activity, or counting mechanism, or spelling word on the screen rather than what button to hit and how fast. The underlying theme I am presenting to my students; that they are engaged in an online activity, class work, if you will, makes all the difference in the child’s respect and eventual responsibility in regards to technology.

So one of the first things my students don’t do in class is use the word “game” when referencing an online activity they are engaging in.

Next Post…
Magic Fingers and a song