The Helicopter

it’s okay if we don’t get it right at first: it's ok to get things wrong – it can even be fun while we’re learning."

Photo of Paula Marra
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The first time I heard about Sir Ken Robinson was seven years ago when I was doing a Harvard Wide World course online as a team member (since then I have had LUNCH with him). Our team was compromised of two JAM teachers, Adriana and I, and we were blown away by how magnificent his lecture "Schools Kill Creativity" was/is.

After we saw the video, we felt inspired to try a new experiment in the classroom, and for our Harvard course we wrote about both the video and the experiment. Here's what we wrote:

"Sir Ken Robinson says that education will take us to a future that we can’t grasp, and we need to educate the children so they can be ready for that future.  We believe that this is very true. We are preparing the children for a world we don't yet know about.  Are we giving them the basic tools?

He also says that children are not afraid of being wrong, and that if you are not prepared to be wrong you will never create anything. This was particularly inspiring to us, as we are always aware that the little children in our classroom will be adults in the blink of an eye, and we need to provide not just the information they'll need, but the confidence in themselves to be comfortable with who they are, as well as with their knowledge; to be adaptable, to be listeners, enquirers, and thinkers.

Well, after watching this video lecture we decided to do something completely unorthodox in our classroom.

Our students, at times, are afraid of trying things and getting them wrong, so Paula brought a remote control helicopter into the classroom. As it happens, she is not very good at flying it, so there were crashes. As she showed the children that it was quite hard for her to fly it, Paula asked, what does she need to do to get better at it? They answered: Practice!

In this AHA! moment, we asked then straight after: what do you need to do to get better at writing? - and they answered with huge smiles: Practice!

Afterward, we showed them that the controls of the helicopter have two parts: one to go up and down and another for turning and going forward and backward. We then explained that for me it was easier to learn the up and down on its own first, and then start using the other control and for Adriana it was easy to use both at the same time. We then related that to writing…left to right…sounding out….and so on.

We kept the helicopter in the class, so the children could use it (and crash it – no harm done, it's almost indestructible!), and it was a reminder that we need practice to get better at things, and it’s okay if we don’t get it right at first: it's ok to get things wrong – it can even be fun while we’re learning."


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Photo of Niranjan Vasireddy

What a simple but yet profound practical analogy that kids can relate to. I love the way you led your kids to discover the profound meaning in the word "Practice" rather them lecturing them on it. Thank you very much for sharing.

Photo of Paula Marra

Most welcome! Let me know if you try :-)

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