Seeing failure as iteration
A trio of students at Crossett Brook Middle School, in Duxbury VT, have spent the past two years building a go-cart. When their first cart snapped in half on its maiden voyage, the students took that incident as a challenge, and the next year, they figured out what had gone wrong, and better yet, what would make it go right.
And the results have to be seen to be believed.
Our story begins in 2016
Last year, Crossett Brook Middle School rolled out Brainado, a school-wide Genius Hour. And that spring, I came across Hayden, a student who was looking discouraged during one of the work sessions.
“How’s things?” I asked.
“Not great. Our project is stuck. Not sure this car is going to happen.”
Just then another student walked up, carrying a leaf blower and a piece of plywood. “I’m going to go test my hovercraft. Wanna come?”
Hayden went to the gym, test rode the hovercraft, and got reinvigorated. He and his partners persisted to eventually create a semblance of a car. It wasn’t what they had hoped for, and it quickly fell apart during the project exhibition, but they had seen the project to completion.
Still, a feeling that they could have done better lingered.
So this year, Hayden and his team decided to created another car, but to “do it right this time.” They:
- Carefully planned before they started building.
- Acquired parts and materials that fit their design.
- Took advantage of the equipment and expertise in the Tech Ed classroom.
- Split up the work when they could, and came together when an all-hands-on-deck approach was needed.
- Budgeted their time, and brought a laser-like focus to work sessions.
This time the car worked flawlessly.
And I realized that the first go-cart Hayden and his team produced wasn’t a failure. It was simply one phase in the learning process.
The Brainado experience emphasizes the importance of an authentic learning process driven by passion and naturally accruing skills, such as collaboration and problem solving. Students gain these complex skills only when they are fully engaged and thoroughly self-motivated.
When students are given the freedom to pursue their interests and the encouragement to learn from failure, they often produce something amazing. And no matter what they produce, that learning and sense of accomplishment will linger long after the project.