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Science Soundtracks #2: Experiments All Fail {Episode 103}

January 24, 2022 5 min read

Don't listen to the idea that every experiment you try will fail. Instead embrace the idea that you can always learn from experiments, even if they don't go as planned.

This experiment will fail because all the ones we try fail. How often have you heard that soundtrack?

For season 8, we are taking these negative soundtracks, or beliefs, and turning the volume dial down. Then, we are turning the dial up on a new soundtrack – one that will help us share science with our kiddos.

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Episode 103 - Experiments all fail {Science Soundtracks #2}

Episode Transcript

How many times have you looked at a planned experiment and felt, or even said out loud, “this one is going to fail because it seems like everyone we try fails?” Well, you are not alone – this is another one of the most common complaints I hear about homeschool science.

But is this helping us share the wonders of science with our kiddos? Let’s put this belief, or soundtrack, through the 3-question litmus test.

If you remember, I shared Jon Acuff’s soundtrack litmus test back in the introduction to this season. If you haven’t listened to that yet, hit pause to go back and listen to episode 101. It explains a bit about soundtracks and how season 8 came to life, plus it will help this episode make a lot more sense.

That said, let’s put this soundtrack through the litmus test:

  1. Is the idea that every experiment will fail true? Although, there is probably an exception to this, I would venture to say that not every, single, experiment you have tried has failed. Though the past may be littered with duds, I am confident that there are a few successes hidden among the memories. So we’ll give this test 0.01 points of accuracy to account for an outlier.
  2. Is the idea that every experiment will fail helpful? If you set out to do something, thinking that you will fail, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So that’s a big fat 0.
  3. Is the idea that every experiment will fail kind? My friends it is not kind to call yourself a failure. I won’t do that to you, and I won’t let you do it either. Another 0 points for the litmus test.

Tally up the score and the idea that every experiment will fail scores a 0.01 out of 3 points. That’s worse that last week’s litmus test for the soundtrack, “Science is too hard.” This week’s soundtrack fails our litmus test spectacularly. So as Mr. Acuff says in his book, Soundtracks, “That’s enough of doing it that way, let’s try something else.”

Let’s stop looking at those experiment directions and assuming that it will fail. Instead, let’s flip that soundtrack to:

When we do this experiment, we may not get the expected outcome, but we can always learn from the experience.

Don't listen to the idea that every experiment you try will fail. Instead embrace the idea that you can always learn from experiments, even if they don't go as planned.

We talked about this back in episode 23 and again in episode 51. In both, I shared that an experiment that doesn’t turn out the way it should, doesn’t equal a failed learning experience. Reality is that in science, we learn from our failures. In fact, failed experiments are a normal part of the scientific process.

Then you add in that our main goal in homeschooling is not to cram our students with facts and Pinterest-worthy experiences. Our goal is to raise kids who can think through problems and who will take on a life-long pursuit of education.

Of course, there are certainly curated lessons and experiences that we want to give them. There are facts that we need and want them to know before they leave our homeschool. But I do my best not to sweat those moments when things don’t go according to plan because it doesn’t mean that they won’t learn something from it.

When we do experiments, we may not get the expected outcome, but we can always learn from the experience.

How does this play out?

I know, this is going to shock you and I probably shouldn’t admit this on a public podcast, but we have experiment duds in our homeschool. Whew . . .

Actually, if you have been listening to this podcast for any length of time, you already know that we have not achieved experiment perfection.

  • Sometimes I don’t have the right supplies and my substitution doesn’t work.
  • Sometimes the supplies are outdated {ahem, yeast experiment}.
  • Sometimes we rush things and inadvertently skip a step.

Whatever the case, if you, like me, have had an experiment dud, it doesn’t equal failure – it means you are human.

We need to flip this experiment script. We need to flip the script from failure to finding a way to learn from it. To teach our kids that an experiment dud means we can troubleshoot it and figure out where things got mismatched.

When the outcome doesn’t match the fine print, ask:

  • Did we follow all the directions?
  • Did we have all the correct supplies?
  • Were any of our supplies expired or outdated?
  • How did what we saw differ from what should have happened?
  • Are there any obvious reasons why the demonstration or experiment failed?

These questions will help you troubleshoot that dud and turn it into a learning homerun. If there’s time, you can always roll up your sleeves and try, try it again until you get the expected results.

Either way, when you do experiments, you might not get the expected outcome, but you can always walk away with a successful learning experience.

So at the beginning of this episode, we put that old, tired all-experiments-we-try-will-fail soundtrack through the litmus test and it epically failed. Let’s try out our new soundtrack to see if it passes the test:

  1. Is the idea that we can learn from experiments even if we don’t get the expected results true? Yes, remember that even professional lab scientists don’t fear those experiment duds as they know it can lead to a new understanding of how things work – 1 point for the new soundtrack.
  2. Is the idea that we can learn from experiments even if we don’t get the expected results helpful? Yes, this idea takes the pressure off and lands us another point.
  3. Is the idea that we can learn from experiments even if we don’t get the expected results kind? Yes, this soundtrack puts the focus on where it should be – the belief that learning is what defines success. And that adds another point.

That’s a 3 out of 3 points for the idea that when we do experiments, we might not get the expected outcome, but we can always learn from the experience.

So, let’s turn the dial down on the idea that all experiments we try will fail and turn the dial up on the belief that we can learn from experiments, even if we don’t get the expected results.

Don't listen to the idea that every experiment you try will fail. Instead embrace the idea that you can always learn from experiments, even if they don't go as planned.

Because when we change the soundtrack we have been listening to about teaching science it changes the way we approach teaching science, which changes the outcome of the success of science education in our home.

Thanks for listening and I hope you have a great week sharing science!



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