Banning the Eraser

Elmhurst School for Boys

15th March 2018 | Headmaster's Blog

"Ban the eraser, get a big road sign with an eraser and put a big, red bar across it and get kids to say you don’t scrub out your mistakes, highlight them because mistakes are your friends, they are your teachers" said Professor Guy Claxton, Cognitive Scientist and co-author of 'Educating Ruby'.

Last week, I took four of our most talented mathematicians to a special Collaborative Learning Day, organised by Bellevue’s Education Director, Sam Selby. Our pupils joined a number of boys and girls from other Bellevue Education schools and worked collaboratively, solving mathematical problems and challenges. It was fascinating to see how their young minds worked differently when calculating how many aliens there would be after twelve months, if a pair of mature aliens produced two offspring every month and these baby aliens would mature after a month, producing their offspring the following month...and so on. They also had to design a block of flats for 144 pairs of aliens to live in within a certain number of square metres per alien, a sleep rota of six hours a day for each alien, enough accommodation for all aliens, designed and built for the best price, without incurring the cost of the ‘Sky Tax’ if they had more than eight storeys in their block! These are just two of the example of the types of problems they were solving during the day. It is safe to say that the Fibbonacci formula and the Golden Ratio were regular features of the discussions being had by all.

If this is ‘all Greek’ to you, as it is to me, then the point I am making is that, throughout the day the children made many, many mistakes. One of the Elmhurst boys told me that they attempted one calculation a number of times and still were not sure of their final answer. The idea that we can rub out or erase our mistakes breeds a culture of fear around being wrong. In effectively preparing our boys for the 21st century however, we must encourage pupils to embrace their mistakes. It is not realistic to think that in the real world we will never make mistakes or that we can just erase mistakes and forget about them. We must learn from our mistakes as the pupils at the Collaborative Maths Day did. Every mistake informs us of what not to do and that is a valuable aspect of our journey to getting things right.

So, my message is that if our boys are to be well prepared for life in the 21st century we need to create a culture where children are not afraid to make mistakes. They should look at their mistakes with a positive outlook, enabling them to develop resilience and determination, rather than having an eagerness to get to the correct answer in order to look smart.

If we collectively ‘ban the eraser’ and embrace our mistakes, we will all be supporting the creation of a culture where we understand that mistakes can be our friends, and our teachers!

- A J Padfield

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