Periodic Failure leads to Success

Adopt an Element.  That's the title of the project. 

Students can hardly wait to select their element.  Computer screens are popping up with images of obscure elements. Excited exclamations filter throughout the classroom.  There is a buzz of activity.

My colleague and I have decided to split the entire periodic table between the total of 8th grade, that’s 90+ students.  Each student is researching and reporting on a unique element.  As we were planning how to display the student work, we have an absolute stroke of genius, “Let’s make a wall display of the periodic table!”  We nearly burst with excitement over how amazing this project and subsequent display will be.  In fact, we were nearly intoxicated with anticipation of its impending greatness.

We plan the size, orientation, and position of the posters. We measure.  We cut. We place the background. The posters have been submitted, students presented, and rubrics consulted.  It is Friday afternoon.  Our anticipation of the display is so rousing that we can not wait any longer to build that periodic table.  Friday afternoon turns into Friday evening.

It’s hot.  We’re sweating.  We continue on with hope and eagerness.  I stop to wipe my brow and assess the gradually forming periodic table. Despair descends upon me, “This sucks,” I think.  It looks juvenile.  It looks terrible.  “Is it even worth continuing?“ I wonder. My colleague, also pauses. She deflates before me and quietly comments,  “Somehow I imagined this to look a lot better than it is”.

My despair gives way to the laughter that erupts from deep within me. Before we know it, we are on the floor in hysterics. Through tears of delirium we complete our display.

Uneasiness settles in at the thought of the rest of the school viewing our pathetic display on Monday but it’s done and there’s no turning back.

My colleague and I having accepted and overcome  the disappointment of our display.

 I slink into my classroom first thing on Monday, before anyone has arrived.  Within a few minutes one of our other science colleagues bursts into the room, “It looks great!” she genuinely expresses. The students are thrilled.  The principal adulates the project as the perfect example of student work and collaboration. In the end, it’s not nearly as bad as we had perceived it on Friday night.

Adopt an Element.  Despite our moment of despair, it was indeed a huge success. My message today? When working with students focus on their learning and their achievements, and it will all be OK.