Active Learning: How do we encourage children to have a go, to perhaps make a mistake?

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” 

– Albert Einstein

Christine Rosicka in From concept to classroom  – Translating STEM education research into practice, identifies the need to nurture curiosity and questioning, to foster active learning which allows students to learn with real life examples, and, importantly, to allow children to learn from their failure. Her research of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in primary schools highlights the importance of active learning or inquiry-based learning in integrated STEM teaching practice.

Active learning involves students using multiple senses and interacting with other people and materials to solve a problem.  The iterative and evaluative nature of real-world inquiry-based learning allows for reflection and helps to show students that failure is an important part of the learning process. The analysis of failure and continuous improvement process is important for developing a growth mindset.   

– Rosicka, 2016


The “I Learn” graphic reflects the Australian Technologies curriculum links with STEM in developing problem solving, critical analysis and creative thinking.

At our August CESA Re-imagining Childhood 0-18 Research Schools Seminar, participants were audience members at a special screening of the documentary Most likely to Succeed.  The documentary motivates us to re-think teaching and learning for deeper and more purposeful learning.  High Tech High was the base for the study. It is a high school where the students have autonomy with flexible learning that is problem or project-based and where explicit and more formal learning occurs within the context of the project. At High Tech High failure seemed to be factored into the learning, and not simply ignored.

Recently, the CESA Learning and Technologies team facilitated the Primary STEM Digitech Day. Teachers were given opportunities to collaborate, redesign and problem solve – including learning from their failures.   During the various hands-on activities – some of which incorporated several emerging technologies – teachers were able to re-think, resolve and learn from their mistakes. The accompanying short video evidences this in an activity which focused on the challenge of programming a robot!

Repeatedly, when utilising technology, it is within the process of trial and error that we build our capacity, grow knowledge, skills and understanding –  we experience active learning!

STEM Challenge with BlueBot from Learning Technologies on Vimeo.

(With thanks to Anne DeNicolo: CESA Learning and Technologies Consultant)


Please share your thoughts:

  • Is it difficult to teach students to take risks because we’re too scared to take them ourselves?
  • As professionals how do we engage with mistakes?
  • What might it look like for us, as educators, to get comfortable with failure—and even embrace it?
  • What kinds of questions could we ask to support children to think, to theorise, to use their mental processes for creating and problem solving?


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