Screw-Ups in Science?


Ok, Bob Ross is NOT a scientific screw up.  He does however have hair that taunts gravity and an uncanny ability to soothe like a store of pharmaceuticals. No, Bob Ross is here to remind us that there are no such things as mistakes, just “happy little accidents”.  Make an errant smudge on the paper? Just add some branches and it becomes a “happy little shrub”.  Pull a line too crooked?  Turn the foreground of your barn into a snarled piece of driftwood (who cares how it got there).

Well any good scientist (especially the cool ones like Richard Feynman) were extremely creative, observant, and open to any outcome.

So, when I ran across this short article in Mental Floss about “8 Brilliant Scientific Screw Ups” I thought it would be a great read with kids.  Many of these are “Happy little accidents” – set out to be one thing, and through the open-mindedness and observation of other people turned them into something else. They help to dispel the myths about science and invention that it is linear and staid and sterile.  Even that is a broadening perspective.  They suggest these competencies of thinking and working like a scientist that are not in the general sterotype.

For an activity, divide the advisory into groups or pairs and have them give an overview of one of the 8 “screw ups”. What was the original experiment and the expected outcome? What was the final outcome? Why is this discovery important? What is interesting or unusual about this story?

These are fun stories. Remember to have fun with this!