My Big Mistake

Tonight, I realized that I made a big mistake. I was driving home this evening and thinking about my Math/Music activity from todayI kept replaying the comment that I made about 4 beats in a bar. I had this nagging feeling that something that I said or did related to this music activity wasn’t right. I tried reasoning with myself that I was correct. But I just couldn’t be convinced, so when I got home, I sent out this tweet:


It wasn’t long before an English teacher from Kitchener, Callie, replied to my tweet (and then our conversation unfolded).


I can’t believe what I did! How could I have made such a huge mistake?

Now I felt stuck. It was during our Math/Music activity today that I realized that many students did not understand the connection between a half and a whole. I was speaking to my amazing EA, Melissa, after school today, and she had a great idea involving Lego and fractions. I then started to look at different block and shape options that would help students see that two halves make a whole. I left school totally prepared to have students create different combinations of four beats using half notes and whole notes: using visuals to “see” what fractions really mean in a meaningful context.

I kept trying to convince myself that despite the fact that half notes are actually two beats, whole notes are actually four, and there are only really four beats in a bar (and not 16), that I could still make my activity work. But it wasn’t long before my discussion continued with our terrific Arts Consultant, Karen, and I knew that as much as I wanted this plan to work, it wouldn’t. Based on this realization then, I need to go to school tomorrow and tell my Grade 1 students that,

  • I made a big mistake.
  • I was right that there are four beats in a bar, but completely wrong about the value of each note.
  • I will be correcting my mistake, and we will learn the right way, but first, I need some help. (I’m meeting with Karen next week, and I will be getting this help.)

I know that we learn a lot from failing. I know that we learn a lot from trying again, and I know that I will learn a lot from this experience. But you know what? Failing isn’t fun, and thinking that I may have caused confusion for my students, definitely upsets me. I’ve made many mistakes in my teaching career, and I’m sure that I’ll make many more, but hopefully I won’t make this same one again. I hope that my Grade 1’s will understand when I tell them about my mistake tomorrow. Today was a good reminder that we can all make mistakes … even when we think that we may be doing the right thing

How do you admit to students about your mistakes? How do you learn from these mistakes? I’d love if we could share our stories, and share the learning that comes from them!


10 thoughts on “My Big Mistake

  1. We all make mistakes. It’s how we handle them and how we learn from them that make the difference in a mistake that remains a mistake and one that leads to learning. This year at “Parent Night,” I totally relocated the Grand Canyon from Arizona to Colorado! 🙂 HA HA! I was giving an example of a vacation blog for kidblog and as soon as I said it, I said “That’s not right. Is it?” None of the parents had the heart to correct me in front of the whole room of parents. I totally KNOW it is in Arizona and the COLORADO RIVER runs through it. Not that is is in Colorado. While I was totally embarrassed, I just took this as an opportunity to show the parents what type of climate we would have. I emailed them laughing at myself and telling them that I actually knew the correct geographical location of this famous landmark and to please laugh at this mistake. They were so gracious and it was a good moment for me to share with the class. Mistakes will happen. Admit them, correct them and learn from them. Don’t beat yourself up. Let this be a moment to show your kids how to handle mistakes! 🙂

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story, Carol, and the great advice! It’s true: admitting them and learning from them makes good sense. It just bothers me to think that I may have caused more confusion for the students. Hopefully I didn’t. I know that I’ve already learned a lot from this mistake, and I have no doubt that I’ll learn more in the coming days.


  2. This revelation really speaks to the misconceptions that we have. then after reflecting and seeing more information we realize that our thinking needs to change. I would highllight this for the class and have them also note the misconceptions they have and the new understandings that they gain. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Thanks for the comment, Byron! This is a very interesting point. I never thought about this before, but it’s a great idea! I’d be curious to hear what the students have to say.


  3. I think one of the most powerful things I do as a teacher is to tell my students I made a mistake. Believe me, as a Core French teacher, I do it a lot…particularly when we’re trying to figure out the gender of word. So then we talk about where to find the answer….

    …and letting them know how you found the answer is also pretty cool. Talk to them about how you had to know who to check with, and that you just had the sense that something wasn’t right. That’s good radar to teach about.

    • Thanks Lisa! This is great advice. I think I will tell them this story, and maybe we can even talk about what they do when they think that they’ve made a mistake. I’d be curious to hear what they say.


  4. We all make mistakes. In fact in the arts we often say there are no mistakes, and some of our best ideas, creative thinking and solutions come from looking at our ‘mistakes’ and exploring new ideas and learning from them. We want to encourage and support students taking risks, feeling comfortable in our classes and open to try anything so they can always be learning and improving. This all comes from a supportive environment when we do make mistakes no matter what they might be and how we deal with them together and learn from them.

    One of the greatest lessons you can learn from making mistakes is forgiveness. With every mistake that you’ll make, you will learn how important it is to forgive yourself and many of the people around you. You will understand that you are not perfect and that perfection doesn’t really exist.

    What is important – our intentions of always doing our best! You are an exemplar for this in teaching and especially always being the caring adult these young ones look up to. Your intentions always come from a place of goodness and come from a place of deep caring for always bringing the best of what you can of yourself and the world to explore with your students. Even in your reflection and concern about your mistake you are the caring teacher they look up to and learn from. They will forgive you ( though no forgiveness is necessary) and learn even more from you than if everything had been ‘perfect’.

    And who wants to be perfect anyways? Perfection leaves no room for improvement….

    • Thanks for the lovely comment, Karen, and the wonderful words of advice. The funny thing is that I make lots of mistakes, but this one seemed to bother me more. I think it’s because I know what I’ve been trying to teach my students these past couple of days, and now, I know what I should have been teaching them. This “fractions” concept is difficult for them to understand, and I’m afraid that my error is just going to cause more confusion. Thankfully I can take a little time to break from this concept, meet with you, and figure out how best to regroup. Now to start today by admitting my mistake …


  5. The mistake that nagged at you is one that I find is commonly made when we are working to think in areas which are new to us. You had the relationship idea of wholes, halves, etc. but got off track about the unit of measurement. The relationships between notes in music notation is mathematically beautiful, but you have to keep in mind that it’s the measure–the bar, that is the unit of measurement. It’s true that the whole note = the whole measure in 4/4 time. That’s how it got its name. Your head will start to spin, however, when you realize that even though it’s still called a half note, this 2-beat note actually takes up the “whole” measure in 2/4 time.

    I think this example of your trying to use music to demonstrate something to young children shows the importance of dialogue with other teachers. We need to talk about these ideas and what it is we are trying to help children understand. I know I have fallen in love with ways to do things that actually muddied up the waters for children. The concepts seemed elegantly beautiful to me but were actually distractions for the children who are at a totally different stage in their cognitive experiences. You may come to the conclusion that the analogy with music notation is more abstract (and inconsistent in its labels) than you thought and requires too much understanding of language to be helpful to the children. I might suggest that you stay away from the word labels whole, half, etc. and just show them how the ‘whole’ bar/measure can include a different number of ‘parts’. Enjoy the conversations you have around these math and music ideas! They are fascinating!

    • Thank you, Robin, for your comment and your suggestion! I think that I may be going in this direction. I really like to make math meaningful, and I’d love to in this case as well, but maybe not at this point in the year. I’m excited to meet with our Arts Consultant next week, and develop some future music/math plans. I love the ideas that are coming through these comments, and it’s great to hear how others approach this same issue!


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