Inspire Your Students To Learn Like Astronauts

Stefanie Cole

Buckle Down

The success of everyone is an extremely important concept when there are only three of you on a space mission and a mistake can mean death for the whole crew. In that sort of situation each person must be well trained and supported. Chris Hadfield tells us about the time he “messed up a Soyuz docking practical exam.” His crewmate not only commiserated with him to make him feel better, “but suggested techniques and tactics [he] could use to improve [his] performance and then rejoiced  . . . when [he] retook the exam and passed.” How does this apply to our classrooms? It supports the idea that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and that even an astronaut can fail a test. Does that mean students are bad at certain skills and will never achieve them? No, it means they have to work harder, find a different strategy and try again.

We aim for this. We want our students to recognize their strengths, but we also need them to see that their weaknesses are simply areas for growth. Just because a skill is difficult doesn’t mean a student can’t eventually become proficient in that area. For example, if people fail their driver’s test the first time, does it mean they will never drive? We want our students to recognize that some parts of learning may be difficult, but with work and determination they can certainly succeed.

Sometimes the students who pick up concepts easily are the ones who have trouble when they find a skill that is difficult. Our students who have always worked hard to learn may have the skills and knowledge their peers need. A perfect quote from Hadfield’s book to use as a Quickwrite is on page 100: “Early success is a terrible teacher. You’re essentially being rewarded for a lack of preparation, so when you find yourself in a situation where you must prepare, you can’t do it. You don’t know how.”

There are a couple of different follow-up activities that work well after reading this quote. Students could make a chart with the titles “Easy” and “Challenging” and take two or three minutes to list any activities that are either easy or challenging for them. Students could also describe a time when something was difficult and they had to work to achieve it.

Sharing strengths, weaknesses and ways our students have achieved success in the past provides students with insights into ways others have overcome difficulties or how their own work ethic in different areas of their lives can apply to their work in school. Failing doesn’t have to be the end of learning.

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