Why Student Success STEMs from Failure

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Why Student Success STEMs from Failure

What if we told you to create a smartphone stand in five minutes using only a roll of tape and five sheets of paper? That’s what parents at SSIS found themselves tasked with doing during the “Engineering, Coding, and Design @ SSIS” session of our Parent Education series.

As the bright and airy multi-purpose room filled with masked parents eager to learn more about how their children are learning these essential future-ready skills at SSIS, a few noted the rolls of masking tape and sheets of paper laid out on each table. 

When they learned that their own engineering and collaboration skills would be put to the test, murmurs and a few slightly nervous giggles could be heard from around the room. 

“Today, we would like you to create a smartphone stand with your tablemates, using only the materials in front of you. You have five minutes,” Kattina Rabdau-Fox, ES STEM Coach (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), told parents.

Some groups jumped to the task, unfurling long strands of tape and folding the sheets of paper while assessing their structural integrity. Other groups were more contemplative, eyeing the limited supplies while discussing the next steps.

Taking on the challenge, a group of parents works on creating a smartphone stand, using only paper and tape.​​​​​

When, after five minutes, the timer sounded, HS STEM Coordinator Evan Weinberg asked parents how many made something they decided wouldn’t work. A few brave parents raised their hands as Mr. Weinberg reassured everyone that it is human nature to be a little less excited about our failures. “However,” he revealed, “failure is critical.”

Fail and Fail Forward

The greatest challenges facing our world today don’t have simple solutions. To succeed, our students must be adept at “failing forward,” persistently repeating their process and trying different things. 

“When we allow ourselves to fail repeatedly, we ultimately end up succeeding. That is why we talk about failing forward: taking the lessons of your failure to make something better,” Ms. Rabdau-Fox, explained to parents. “Failing is an essential component of learning and finding viable solutions.” 

In addition to the importance of failures, the smartphone stand exercise illustrated another important aspect of the thinking that SSIS students are learning: that there are many answers to the same problem.

With a simple glance around the room, anyone could see the truth in that statement. Even with such limited supplies, there was no one solution; there were many! 

Future-Ready by Design 

These skills and this type of thinking are important to nurture future-ready students. 

In a recent report from the World Economic Forum, employers reflect on the skills they think will be needed in the future. Among those skills? The ability to think critically, solve problems, be flexible and resilient, and learn actively.

As students get older and gain confidence, they are encouraged to try more challenging tools.

And at SSIS, students have been building these skills daily for a long time as they work through the design cycle. 

Design is the process of thinking about what you want to make, making it, and reflecting on the result as you work through iterations to find the most relevant solution. 

“That is why the design cycle that students learn through coding and engineering is relevant regardless of what our students pursue,” Mr. Weinberg told parents. “It creates an understanding for the process of going through and trying, many different ideas.”

Coding, engineering, and design are not just about being good at math or science or writing code.

Through these types of classes and exercises, students at SSIS are:

  • building skills & dispositions - the knowledge and thinking to continue despite failures or setbacks
  • using their imagination - thinking of what could be, but isn’t
  • finding the purpose - an in-depth understanding of what problem they are actually trying to solve and why 

What goes into creating a stable prosthetic leg with limited tools? Students build and discuss.​​

Tips for Supporting Your Child

As the parent education session drew to a close, parents naturally wondered how to best support these efforts at home. 

Daniel Mendes, Instructional Coach for MS Technology, shared several tips with parents.

  • Give your child a chance to solve real problems. It shows them that they have the power to do so.
  • Ask your child questions to get them to build on what they already know. 
  • Involve your child in problem-solving scenarios with questions like “How should we solve this?”
  • Model the behavior. Share a problem that you are attempting to solve in your life with your child. 
  • When you are checking through your child’s do not focus only on the final product. Ask your child about their process. Ask your child about their failures.
  • Engage in learning together with an “I don’t know, but let’s find out” attitude. 

Author: Tanya Olander
Communications Officer


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