Tag Archives: Learning

Willingness to Fail is the Key to an Inventor’s Success

failedThe successful inventors, designers, engineers, artists, chefs, and entrepreneurs of the world know that the keys to success are hard work, sensible risk-taking, taking on challenges, failing, and trying again till you succeed.

Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor, holding over 1000 patents. His inventions include the electric lightbulb, motion picture cameras, and the phonograph. Here are quotes that give clues to the reasons for his success:

  • Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
  • I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.
  • Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.
  • Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.
  • The essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.
  • The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls and looking like hard work.
  • I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.

Edison clearly had “grit” and a “growth-based mindset.” He also loved to tinker, and had a passion for learning. (Click on any of those color links for tips on instilling those traits in your child. Also read here about the impact of praise on your child’s mindset.)

Here are some ways to raise an Inventor (or designer, engineer, artist, chef,  entrepreneur, author, builder, etc.)

  • Create a culture where struggle and risk-taking is valued more than the “right answer”.
  • Instead of defining things as “pass” or “fail”, try “mastered” and “not yet.”
  • Tell stories about successful people that illustrate how grit helped them succeed.
  • Let them know that everyone, no matter how talented, runs up against things they can’t do. The ones who succeed are the ones who fail, pick themselves up, fail again and persevere till they succeed.
  • Talk about mistakes and failures as normal parts of learning – not reasons to quit.
  • Let them see you fail and keep trying. Don’t say about yourself “I’m just no good at this.” Say “I guess I need to try harder.”
  • Honor them for times when they set their own goals, begin the work, face road blocks, and carry on to completion.
  • Make things together. Come up with an idea for what you want to accomplish. Draw it and plan it. Build it. Test it. Ask each other: what is working about it? What could be better? Make it better together. Show it to other people. Ask them what could be better.
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Grit – The Key to Success?

gritMany people view intelligence as the key to success. However, there are plenty of intelligent people who don’t achieve much, and lots of successful people that don’t score that well on IQ tests. Angela Duckworth, from the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that an even more important trait is grit. “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina.” “Grit is sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.”

Duckworth studied students at West Point, competitors in the national spelling bee, and those who complete college versus those who don’t. She’s tested them on the grit scale which asks if they work hard, if they stick to a goal till it’s achieved, and how they respond to setbacks. Those with the highest grit scores were the most successful in each realm.

She believes grit can be taught. Some ways to teach it:

  • Create a culture where struggle and risk-taking and doing things outside your comfort envelope is valued more than getting the right answer.
  • Tell stories about successful people that illustrate how being gritty and working hard despite setbacks helped them to succeed.
  • Talk about mistakes and failures as normal parts of learning – not reasons to quit.
  • Let them know that everyone, no matter how talented, runs up against things they can’t do. The ones who succeed are the ones who fail, pick themselves up, fail again and persevere till they succeed.
  • Honor them for times when they set goals, face road blocks, and carry on to completion.
  • Encourage a growth-based mindset.

Some argue that grit is a byproduct of other traits like confidence, courage and curiosity. Others argue that a child is more likely to be “gritty” and persistent and complete tasks in areas where they are passionate. Duckworth agrees: “I don’t think people can become truly gritty and great at things they don’t love So when we try to develop grit in kids, we also need to find and help them cultivate their passions. That’s as much a part of the equation here as the hard work and the persistence.”

Learn more:

Growth Based Mindset

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, has spent decades studying achievement and success. She has developed the concept of a growth-based mindset, summarized here:

Fixed Mindset Growth-Based Mindset
Belief Intelligence and talent are static. They’re something you’re born with: you have it or you don’t. Intelligence develops with effort. The brain is like a muscle that can be trained.
Goals To look smart in every situation.
To never fail.
To push myself and try new things.
To take on new challenges.
Success Proving I’m smart or talented. Stretching to learn something new.
Evaluation of a new situation Will I succeed at it or will I fail?
Will it make me look good or bad?
Will it allow me to grow?
Attitude to challenges I avoid challenges.
I stick to what I do well.
I embrace challenges.
I persist when things get tough.
Response to setback I’m a failure. (identity)
I give up.
I failed. (action)   I’ll learn from it and move on. I’ll try harder next time
Effort Why bother? It’s pointless. Effort is the key to mastery.
Criticism Ignore criticism or deflect: “It’s not my fault.” Learn from criticism: how can I improve?
Success of others I feel threatened by it.
If they succeed, I fail.
I find lessons and inspiration in other people’s successes.
I feel good When it’s perfect. When I win. When I try hard. When I figure something out.
Results They plateau early. Never reach full potential. They achieve ever-higher levels of success.

Mindsets in the classroom:

Students were given a test. Then some of the children were praised for their intelligence: “that’s a good score. You must be smart.” Some were praised for the process: “that’s a good score. You must have worked hard.” The kids were then asked what they wanted to do next, and they were given the option of something easy where they wouldn’t make mistakes or something challenging where they might make mistakes but would learn something important. Those who were praised for intelligence chose the easy task. Those who were praised for effort chose the hard task they could learn from. Later, they gave everyone a very hard test – the kids praised for intelligence lost confidence and lost their enjoyment of the task and later lied about their scores. The kids who were praised for the effort and the process stayed confident, worked hard at the problems and remained engaged and didn’t lie about their results, because they felt they had done as well as they could on a hard test.

In other research, by Dweck and Blackwell, a group of low achieving students attended a class that taught that intelligence, like a muscle, grows stronger with exercise. As they learned to believe that intelligence was something they could learn, rather than something they could never achieve if they weren’t “born with it”, their motivation increased. They worked harder. When they had difficulty, instead of saying “I’m just not smart enough”, they would say that they needed to work harder or smarter. Their math scores improved, and continued to improve in the following year.

Another example of where these mindsets play out is in the math classroom. 3 out of 10 American describe themselves as “bad at math.” This leads to the belief that “I will never be good at math, so there’s no point in even trying.” Parents and teachers often reinforce this perception. Research shows that while genetics and inherent intelligence can help children initially score well, over time the kids that do best in math are the ones who work hard, have good study habits, and enjoy doing math.

To help your child develop a growth based mindset:

  • think about how you praise them: praise effort, not talent. Praise process not product.
  • pay attention to how you talk about your own abilities… do you say “I’m just no good at…” or do you say “this is hard for me right now, but if I keep trying I think I’ll do it”
  • think about how you respond to their failures and frustrations. Do you let them give up, or encourage them to keep trying? Do you say things like “I know it seems hard now, but I also know that the more you practice, the better you’ll get.”
  • encourage them to tinker: play around at something – try and try again until you get the result you were hoping for

Learn more about growth mindsets at http://www.whatkidscando.org/resources/spec_growthmindset.html and Mind-sets and Equitable Education: http://www.principals.org/Content.aspx?topic=61219

Read more on math at “The Myth of ‘I’m bad at math’” at www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/the-myth-of-im-bad-at-math/280914/ and “’I’m not a math person’ is no longer a valid excuse” at www.businessinsider.com/being-good-at-math-is-not-about-natural-ability-2013-11

If you’re in the Seattle area, you can attend a lecture on the Growth Mindset by Tracy Kutchlow on Wednesday, April 29. Learn more here.

Stages of Play

Children’s play evolves as they get older. Mildred Parten developed a theory in the 1930’s that is still used today, although some of the details and timing have been re-interpreted over the years.

  1. Unoccupied Play—birth and up. Babies gaze at the world and absorb information, but don’t seem to be doing anything.
  2. Solitary Play—3 months and up. Babies or toddlers explore toys and their environment. They don’t really notice other children.
  3. Onlooker Play—9 months and up. They watch other children play but don’t join in.
  4. Parallel Play—18 months—3 years. Children play side by side. They often look like they aren’t paying attention to each other, but one will mimic what the other one is doing.
  5. Associative Play—3 years and up. Playing separately but on the same project (building a block city  together). Talking together, problem-solving together.
  6. Cooperative Play— 4 years and up. Playing WITH a friend. Some examples:
  • Dramatic / Fantasy play: Dress-up, school, etc. Pretending to be characters in the same scenario.
  • Competitive play: Sports, board games, tag, hide and seek.
  • Constructive play: Building with blocks, making a fort, sculpting a sand castle.

Note: Ages given are for kids playing together with peers. If they are playing with someone of a higher developmental level, they can achieve more. (e.g. a one year old can parallel play with an adult, a 2 year old may be able to do cooperative play with an older sibling.)

When watching children play on the playground, or in the classroom, can you identify each of these types of play?

Brain development – how to help your child learn and grow

brain mapThis is a poster I developed for class about the stages of brain development, and what parents can do to create an environment that aids brain growth. Click on the picture for a full screen view.

To learn more about how to help your child’s brain develop to its full potential, check out: https://gooddayswithkids.com/2013/10/29/brain-development/ and at https://gooddayswithkids.com/2015/06/22/hands-on-is-brains-on/

Note: the brain illustration is copyright Macmillan Cancer Support 2012. The text boxes about what part of the brain it is, its sensitive period, and how you can help are my work.