STEM Tuesday — Epic Achievements and Fantastic Failures– Writing Tips and Resources



Fear of failure. It’s something I hear from my students all the time. They are afraid to get things wrong, mostly because it might mean points off on their quiz or test. While I can understand that (no one likes to get a low grade), but when they are afraid to fail in lab class, that’s a different thing. Students need to understand that not every experiment turns out “right”. Sometimes you can do everything correctly in the procedure, step by step, and still mess it up.

When I was in graduate school, I had a simple job. I had to make plates of agar for an experiment. To explain, agar is the gel that goes into the petrie dishes BEFORE you even do the experiment. Agar plates are used to grow microorganisms, like bacteria. In order to compare the growth of bacteria on each dish, the dishes must all be created at the same time, in the same manner.



It’s fairly easy to make (or so I thought). There are five basic steps:

  1. Pick a recipe (my boss gave me one)
  2. Gather the supplies — sterilized petrie dishes, powdered agar, sterilized water, yeast, and another powder
  3. Mix the ingredients according to the directions
  4. Sterilize the agar by heating it to turn it into a liquid
  5. Pour into the plates

Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. For some reason, I could not get the plates to look like the one above. Every time my plates were too cloudy and had air bubbles in them.

I spent 3 ENTIRE weekends trying to make the agar plates and failed EVERY TIME. It was so frustrating.

Finally, my advisor came in and watched me do two sets of new agar plates. What did she see? I was being very specific about how I followed the directions. BUT she noticed that in every process I was making the same mistake over and over. Once that was corrected, I was able to produce the proper plates.

Was she mad I took so long and wasted so much materials? NO. She said that what she loved about my process was that I was so careful to do the same thing over and over. That is a very excellent trait for a research scientist to have.

I ask you parents and teachers to share this story with your students. Everyone needs to understand that sometimes when we think we are failing we are actually excelling at something else!

Here are a few more examples of technology that wouldn’t exist unless a scientist or engineer failed.

“8 Successful Products that Only Exist Because of Failure”  by Sujan Patel


Since our post today is also about Epic Achievements, I thought I would share a post from guest blogger Laura Perdew. She is helping us to celebrate International Biodiversity Day  on May 22nd!

How is this an Epic Achievement? For the last 19 years the United Nations has set aside one day to celebrate biodiversity in our world. Something that is extremely important for the survival of our planet. Celebrating biodiversity, and even more importantly making strides to save biodiversity on the planet, in our cities and towns, and even in our own backyard is definitely an achievement that we should all hope to accomplish. Here’s Laura:


Ever heard of a velvet worm? A tardigrade? A shoebill stork? These are just three of some 8 million species on Earth that come in all shapes and sizes. The amount and diversity of life on this planet is staggering. And unquestionably fascinating.

Biodiversity includes plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms. And it is everywhere, including in some pretty extreme places: near volcanoes, at the deepest parts of the ocean, in the sand, in hot springs and mud pots, in the ice, and even under the ice. And consider this – wherever you are at this moment you are in the company of hundreds or maybe even thousands of other species growing, squiggling, flying, reproducing, wriggling, feeding, and thriving.

What is often overlooked is the fact that ALL OF IT IS CONNECTED. Every species, no matter its size, has a role to play. While the connections between trees in tropical rainforests and polar bears are not immediately obvious, the connections are there. The earth is a perfectly balanced, wondrous system. That balance makes our planet strong. Yet also vulnerable.

We are living in a time when that balance is threatened by human activity. Today is a day to celebrate biodiversity, so I will not dwell on that. Instead, our job as stewards of the planet our children will inherit, is to help them see and understand that magic that is all around them. Jane Goodall said it best: “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall all be saved.”

Celebrate (Bio)Diversity Museum
To get kids excited about biodiversity, challenge them to discover a species they didn’t know existed. With a little research, either with books or on the internet, kids should easily be able to find something new and interesting.

Once they have identified a new species, each student will create a species profile. How detailed the profile is can vary by grade level. The overall goal is to create a visual profile that can be set up as a museum display (and to inspire wonder about Earth’s biodiversity). This might include pictures, charts, maps, basic information, poems, fun facts, or other ideas.

This activity can easily be cross-curricular, integrating language arts, science, social studies, and even math, depending on the requirements you develop for the species profiles.

Once the profiles are complete put them on display and have a biodiversity museum day. Friends and family can also be invited. All students should wander through the “museum” to learn even more about biodiversity. To finish the activity, have students reflect on what they learned both through their own work and from fellow students. This can be done as a class discussion or in writing. And, of course, celebrate biodiversity!

Thanks, Laura. Very well said. Laura is the author of Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth with Environmental Science Activities for Kids (Build It Yourself) (Nomad Press, 2019)


Have a great week, everyone, and don’t forget, as Carolyn DeCristofano said in last week’s STEM Tuesday post,”failing is just practicing for success!”




Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of over 35 books for kids, mostly about science, technology, and engineering. She loves learning new things but still cannot make a plate of agar correctly the first time. But she keeps trying!  You can find her at


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