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A packing failure or a learning experience?

Friends and family know I have a serious travel-related problem. The medical profession has yet to formally identify my condition, but I call it a packing-learning disability. The chances are that you or a loved one suffer from this ailment as I do. Think about your travels. Do you often fail to pack clothing suitable for the climate of your destination? Is your closet like mine? Full of jackets and hoodies purchased hastily because you failed to check the weather? If so, then you too, suffer from a packing-learning disability.

However, I believe there is hope, in fact, possibly a misdiagnosis. As I attend the Beijing Youth Science Competition, I realize that I may not suffer from a learning disability. Rather, I now believe that I excel at operating in the learning zone, where failure is a powerful source for new knowledge and learning.

I happened to overhear one NC student casually describing a process of conducting an experiment or trial, and experiencing the failure of the experiment or trial. He described how he learned from his failures, redesigned the experiment or prototype, and tried again. He used this iterative process until finally creating a successful prototype or experiment.

His conversation helped me discover that I, too, have been using a similar iterative process relative to my travel packing. For this trip, I decided to bring old dress shoes that I intended to leave in China after the event. My hypothesis was that, by discarding the shoes, I would have extra room for gifts. However, an unexpected variable was the introduced into my experiment. The weather turned cold and rainy (perhaps I should have paid attention to the weather reports). As I walked from one building to another across the campus, I discovered that my old shoes had sprung a leak. My feet became extremely wet and cold, which is not a comfortable feeling nor a result I anticipated. However, you can bet that I will never pack old shoes for a trip again without inspecting for leaky soles. Failure equals learning.

So, rejoice and join me in celebrating that we are scientists, not horrible travel packers.

Matthew Meyer

Dr. Matthew Meyer is the associate vice president of educational innovations for the N.C. Community College System.