Why does an experiment fail? (And what to do when it does)

Does it seem like every experiment you try fails? Learn the two most common reasons experiment fail and how to move past them!Does it seem that every single experiment you do fails?

Are you on the verge of giving up on ever doing experiments ever again?

First of all, let me say that you are not alone! Even some of the top scientists in history have repeatedly experienced failure in the lab. Thomas Edison explained it best when he said:

“I haven’t failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.”

Failed experiments are a part of science.

And learning to deal with those failures is a part of being a scientist.

Why does an experiment fail?

But in the home setting, we generally want an experiment to work. After all, these hands-on scientific tests are the flesh of science for our students. We need our program’s experiments to show science in action.

Generally an experiment fails for two key reasons:

  1. Failure to have the right supplies. Either you don’t have all the supplies you need or the ones you have are outdated or expired.
  2. Failure to follow the directions. I am not trying to point fingers at anyone, even I have been guilty of rushing through the directions and missing a key step.

Now that we know why an experiment typically fails, let’s chat about what you can do when it happens to you.

What can you do when it happens to you?

When that experiment doesn’t goes as planned, you can break it down and figure out the anatomy of the failure. These steps will help you find out where things got off track, so that you can get that experiment up and running once more.

Step 1: Re-read the directions

Start the process by carefully reading over the directions one more time. See if you missed any of the steps along the way.

Step 2: Read the expected results and explanation.

Sometimes all you need to know is where you are going to get there. Reading over the results and explanation can help you to see where things went south.

Step 3: Ask several questions.

Ask the following questions:

  1. Did I follow all the directions?
  2. Did I have all the correct supplies?
  3. Were any of my supplies expired or outdated?
  4. How did what I saw differ from what should have happened?
  5. Are there any obvious reasons why the experiment failed?

Step 4: Correct and try again.

Use the information from steps one through three, to correct any errors as you try the experiment one more time.

Step 5: Discuss.

Hopefully the experiment worked the second time. If it didn’t, you can go through steps one through three again to see if you can figure out where things went wrong.

Afterwards, you can discuss the expected results along with what the experiment failure and success has shown your students about science.

Wrapping it up

Teaching our kids to deal with a failed experiment is just as important as teaching them observation skills. So embrace those failed experiments! Do a quick assessment to see if you can find where the experiment got off track. In this way, your kids will learn to think like a scientist, even from an experiment failure.

by Paige Hudson