Failure is Not an Option

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I saw a lot of kids fail this month during our Design-Make-Code summer programs. It made me and our instructors happy. The best teachers know failure is part of the learning process and encourage their students to fail. Not permanently, but as a way to foster creative problem solving.

“I want you to fail. Everyone fails at same point. It’s an important part of the engineering design process. It’s what you do with that failure that matters,” Kathie Babine, instructor of the Catching the Wind camp, explained to her students. “If something’s not working, I want you to think: What can I do differently? Why isn’t this working? How can I make it better?”

Some kids are more practiced and comfortable with this than others. These students tested their designs and eagerly redesigned without missing a beat. Others were not as comfortable with the process and required a little extra encouragement.

One young girl especially caught our attention on the first Monday. She was reluctant to fail and easily frustrated. To be honest, she wreaked a little havoc. I overheard her say that she was never coming back. I wondered if we’d see her Tuesday. It would have been easy for her not to show up as she came by bus and had other options for camps during the day.

Yet, there she was on Tuesday, though still grumbling and pouting when things didn’t work. The instructors kept encouraging her. On Wednesday, she was caught on video excitedly exclaiming, “YES!” about a successful redesign. Thursday included a field trip to the UNHM engineering labs — which seemed to fascinate her — and was relatively incident-free. On Friday, we again witnessed her extreme frustration, but this time she removed herself and doodled quietly in her notebook. When I asked if she wanted me to help her try again, she agreed. I watched in amazement as she took her project apart and started over from the beginning. I didn’t help her at all.

On Friday, as I sat with her to wait for her ride I asked her what her favorite part of the week was. “The ani, ano, the amiters? I can’t remember how to say it!” She laughed as she said it.  

“The anemometers?” I asked.

“Yes! That was my favorite, but I liked it all. It’s fun here.”

I would never have imagined this conversation on Monday. I’m going to miss this perseverant young girl, and I’m so glad she and the other campers came to fail with us.


Screen Shot 2018 03 12 at 9.57.49 PMIn her role as the STEM Discovery Lab Coordinator, Emily supports the collaborative effort between UNH Cooperative Extension and UNH Manchester of the STEM Discovery Lab located on the Manchester campus. Emily was an English as a Second Language and English Language Learner educator for youth and adults in the greater Manchester and Seacoast areas for over 8 years and was the project assistant for the GATE CITY Project (Getting All Teachers ESOL Certified in Two Years) at UNH Manchester from 2012 to 2015. Emily earned her B.A. in international studies from The Ohio State University and her M.Ed. in secondary education from UNH Manchester. She is the mother of two active teenage boys and loves spending time outdoors.

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