Flashing Lights, Raspberry Pi and Why You Should Fail More

This time last week I was packing my bag and checking my train tickets because I was heading to Manchester for Picademy @ Google. I was looking forward to two days of total Raspberry Pi immersion.

Sadly, this was not a CPD event based around baked goods (although someone should definitely look into that). A Raspberry Pi is a low-cost computer that fits in the palm of your hand and can be used by people of all ages to learn how to computer program.

It’s also freaking awesome.

I’d done a very little bit of coding through running a Code Club at school, but I’d never even seen a Raspberry Pi before I arrived in Manchester. Over the next two days, I learned how to do a bit of programming, wire up a circuit, use a camera and other cool gadgets to extend what the Raspberry Pi can do and even build my own project to show what I had learned.

I also failed. A lot.

An hour in on the first day and I was really struggling. There were people in the group that clearly knew their way around a Pi and when the first challenge was to build a circuit and write the code to get an LED to flash, the room was like Blackpool Illuminations in about two minutes. Meanwhile, I was still trying to get mine out of the box.

Oh crap.

My palms started sweating, my breathing got quicker. I was desperately looking at what everyone else was doing and trying to catch up (by copying) before anyone noticed. Had it not been for the enthusiasm and encouragement of the Raspberry Pi trainers (who are totally brilliant in every way), I might have snuck out the nearest fire exit. I was well out of my comfort zone. I was being challenged to do something I didn’t already know how to do.

In short, I was learning.

Realising this changed my attitude instantly. I stopped freaking out. I applied myself to the task and I stuck with it and eventually, with perseverance and determination and a couple of breaks to eat biscuits and get some advice, I got that LED to flash. Move over, Mark Zuckerberg!

Of course, by this time a good section of the group had moved on to three flashing LEDs, controlled by a button and some clever coding to mimic traffic lights, but still!

Being back in the role of the learner took me by surprise. And to my eternal shame, I can’t think of the last time I consciously put myself in that position. Certainly not in such a visible way. With people watching and everything. It felt really uncomfortable at first, like putting on shoes you haven’t worn for ages. I didn’t have all the answers. I wasn’t the expert. I wasn’t in charge of where this was going. What happens if I get it wrong?

In actual fact, I did get it wrong. Many, many times. I’d love to tell you that each time I got it wrong, I persevered and succeeded in the end, but that would not be true. Some of the stuff was so far beyond where my understanding and skills were, I just couldn’t get to it. Or I’d get so far but then hit a brick wall that I couldn’t get myself around without help.

I was a learner again and it made me remember something:

Learning is hard.

You have to push yourself and be brave and look like a bit of an eejit sometimes and not give up and ask questions more than once. It’s an exhausting, exciting, frustrating, exhilarating drama, full of mini highs and mini lows. You have to fail (a lot). Through failure, you learn what doesn’t work and you learn that you can either give up or suck it up and try again. Because it’s failure that makes success worthwhile.

So ask yourself this:

When did I last fail?

If, like me, you can’t answer that, you need to do some failing and this is why:

Forgetting what it’s like to fail means you can’t empathise with your learners.

Credit where credit’s due, people. Your learners show up, give it a go and engage with the messy and tiring process of learning every single day. Does anyone expect you do that? As the teacher, you are the expert, you have the power and the answers and the big picture. Try sitting on the other side of the classroom- the whole thing looks pretty different from over there, I can assure you.

So here’s what I’m going to do:

I’m going to fail more.

I’m going to talk to my class about my failures and what I learned from them.

I’m going to show that I am a learner too and that I know how hard it can be.


And most importantly, I’m going to show them that we don’t give up.

Because in spite of all my challenges, I proper LOVED Picademy. I had the best time. I was completely inspired by what’s possible. I moved my understanding and skills on and I failed enough that I really want success. That is the true magic of learning. I am totally committed to changing my practice to embrace what I have learned. That for me is top quality CPD. It’s time well spent.

Incidentally, Fearghal Kelly started a discussion this weekend about Teachmeets that’s led to some consideration of how/if they make a difference to practice.

Maybe if we all make a commitment to fail more, seek out development opportunities where we challenge ourselves to fail, then reflect on these with our colleagues, they will.

Thanks to @Raspberry_Pi  for everything- my LEDs will always flash when I think of you! #Picademy


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