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Mistakes and Limits

‘…errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery’. James Joyce

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We are sometimes told not to be afraid of mistakes. But this depends on the circumstance. I is fine to make mistakes in the learning process, in fact it is part of the learning process. But it is terrible to make mistakes in an exam, or in something we post online, or on anything that goes public. Occasionally we might make a mistake we cannot bounce back from.

Mistakes can be a good sign when learning. It shows we are probably not just repeating what we have seen elsewhere (rote leaning) but are exploring the topic, and trying a few different options. a good approach at this early stage is to try as many options as we can think of, and find the few, or the one, that works. This is trial and error. And if we get a few comical errors in the process, then we have a few comical anecdotes to take about latter on.

Mistakes often seem like a sensible idea at the time. They seem to work at first, or work in a limited situation, but ultimately they won’t hold up. If we find these mistakes, these mistaken approached, early on we can avoid them latter on, and then avoid them in the future. the idea is to discover the mistakes when learning, and then be well past them by the time we take the exam, or publish a work for the public.

Encourage thinking and learning that can go in many directions, consider all the possibilities, and then separate the good ideas from the mistakes. What remains is work using, or worth developing on in the future.

Science one believed that heat was a liquid, that the earth was flat and the center of the universe, that glass was a liquid that flowed over several decades. These things seemed feasible at the time, but latter proved to be plain misconceptions. If the great minds of history can make these type of mistakes then so can young students. But more accurate answers were developed by getting past these early mistakes. That is the process of learning.

Some teachers keep a blog of these mistakes, titled ‘my favorite mistakes; or something to that effect. This helps students to stay humble, and not take things too seriously. It is amusing to look back at these mistakes afterward, and see how far we have progressed.

Mistakes are fine, as long as we don’t get stuck there.

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Encourage independent learning, with some trial and error mistakes, so the student can see the possibilities, and can get beyond simple repetition of other people’s understanding. Leaning is about discovery, not memorization of other people’s previous discoveries.

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