October 2, 2023

Spilt milk

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Photo by Newtown Graffiti on Flickr 

Accidents will happen. And occasionally, maybe they should. Accidents are not welcome in most schools. Children are usually told to be more careful and ‘not to do it again’ when mishaps occur. Yet accidents can often be just as important in our education as learning knowledge and skills. What’s more, they probably prepare students for a world of work where mistakes may not necessarily be a bad thing. Reflect for a moment on some of the serendipitous events that have led to really useful and sometimes indispensable inventions:

The first that comes to mind is the discovery of a lifesaving new medicine. In 1928 the microbiologist Alexander Fleming was researching to discover a miracle drug that could act as a universal cure. It wasn’t until he threw away his experiments that he discovered what he had been searching for. He noticed that in one of his discarded Petri dishes was a mould that was killing all of the bacteria around it. And so Penicillin was discovered. I’m personally allergic to the stuff, but it has saved countless lives that would otherwise have been lost.

Another mishap led to the invention of a revolutionary new cooking device way back in 1945. Percy Spencer, who was working as an engineer at Raytheon, was conducting research using a vacuum tube into the use of radar. As we was working, Spencer noticed that a chocolate bar in his pocket had melted, causing a nice stain on his clothing. So he put some corn into the machine. As it started to pop, he knew he had discovered a revolutionary new effect. What would we do without microwave ovens in the modern kitchen?

One more example of new ideas caused by failure and in this case, carelessness – was the invention of an indispensable office device. During an otherwise normal working day, a Canon engineer accidentally placed his pen on top of a hot soldering iron. Within seconds, ink was being ejected from the pen, and he investigated further. Ultimately, this small act of carelessness led to the invention of a device many of us now rely upon – the ink jet printer.

It’s important for children to develop competencies, but they should also be given some latitude to experiment, occasionally get things wrong, and explore new ways of doing those things. Who knows what budding inventors and scientists you have in your classroom. Remove some of the borders, give them some freedom, and they may blossom.

Creative Commons License
Spilt milk by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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