As a child, I had numerous opportunities to try my hand at many different things. I can remember playing any sport I could, tumbling classes as a young boy, learning to rope cows with my friends, learning to drive a truck, learning to sew with my grandmother, building a baseball field in our yard, mowing lawns for extra money, and many more. The one constant that I dealt with in each of these situations was failure. Failure showed up in many ways, at many times, but the overarching theme is that failure helped me learn from my mistakes.
One such instance happened with a friend of mine named Brent. We were playing at his Grandmother’s house, which was also a small farm outside of our little, Texas town. We came up with a great idea of building a raft, just like Huck Finn. We pulled together the materials, tied up all of the logs, and set out for the stock tank. We were ready for our trial run. As we put the raft down into the water, we were happy to see that the raft floated on its own. However, once we jumped on the raft, we were quickly doused with both reality and pond water. Our raft was a failure. We pulled the wreckage back up to the house, and proceeded to pull everything apart so we wouldn’t get in trouble.
Several weeks later, the skies opened, and a large rain fell on over our farm. Always being the expeditious young man, I set out behind our farm to see what the rain had brought. Much to my surprise, the rain had left a small pond of water in a very large ditch beside the remnants of an old set of railroad tracks. This pond was too much to pass up. I took the knowledge I had gained from my time with Brent, my helpful siblings, and set out for the barn. We searched through all of the old materials in our barn, and came up with the perfect pieces. We used our knowledge, teamwork, and the ingredients we had found to build a new “Huck Finn” raft.
As we lugged our finished product down the desolate country road on our wagon, I couldn’t help but think back to my time with Brent. Would this time be any different than the last? In a short time we arrived at the pond. We unloaded the raft, and pushed it into the water. We summoned up the courage, and climbed on. However, this time we floated. We had succeeded. We were now living out the experiences of Huck Finn in our own back yard. Without the trial and error, none of that experience would have been possible.
As educators we have designed our curriculum to encourage failure. Regularly. Now, when we use the term fail, we do not mean, “to receive less than the passing grade or mark in an examination, class, or course of study”. When we use the term fail, we mean that we hope our students make goals, create plans, come up short, take what they have learned, and try again. We desire for our students to use the data that they gain from these failures to build upon and modify the next project, experiment, or experience they create. We have deliberately created the margin for the process of experimentation, failure, reflection, and modification to occur. Of course, the end result of this type of failure is commonly characterized as academic success.
At Adventure Academy, we do not measure success by a system of pass or fail or A’s and B’s. We recognize academic success as a journey on a clearly marked path. The pacing of that journey is determined by the students; the guideposts along the path are found in our rubric system. Our rubrics apply the Dreyfus model of skills acquisition to our own core values of creativity, endurance, intellect, and independence. Students travel along this path with their peers. Students advance to higher skill levels seamlessly as they acquire newer, and more advanced, skills. This system of allowing students the freedom to advance through the complexity of their learning at their own pace takes the emphasis off of short-term (and short-sighted) goals such as an ‘A’ on a Spelling test, and create the margin necessary for success born of failure to take place.
The most important piece to this puzzle is fun. Sinking a raft into a stock tank was, contrary to the opinions of some, fun. However, getting the raft to the float on the pond created by the rain was even more fun. Adventure Academy students are allowed to make attempts at solving problems or concepts in an environment that is not only safe, but fun. The themes are designed to cater to the interests of young people, but broad enough to allow our students to follow their imagination within the boundaries of that theme. By allowing students to pursue their interests within a theme, education becomes relevant, personal, and exciting. Solutions can also become ground-breaking. By setting a child’s imagination free with the framework of sound and rigorous academics, Adventure Academy students will be poised to solve issues that we, as a society, have yet to encounter.
Adventure Academy students will be able to take concepts readily used in the world around us, have the courage to try something different, and use their academic base to create solutions that can only be found in our dreams.