STEMpower

Failure is Advantageous

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

Fear of failure seems ubiquitous, whether as it pertains to an individual’s career or to a young student’s education. Despite there being a body of literature which suggests that (an adequate understanding of) failure has the potential to lead to greater achievement (as opposed to habitual success), there seems to be a great cultural diversion to any notion of the sort. It is believed that a great deal of this illusion is founded in societal norms, which is governed by the understanding that perfection is not only attainable, but is expected of each person’s performance and of one’s self.

In unpacking the quote listed above, it is important to remember that purposeful failure is never advocated for, but experimentation which may sometimes result in such an outcome is to be continuously fostered. Addressing the audience on the “Day of Affirmation” at the University of Capetown, Robert F. Kennedy delivered the contents of this famous speech on June 6, 1966. In it, he consistently referred to the greatness that is endowed in the United States due to its belief in individual liberties and, as it pertains to this specific quote, the promotion of great ideals and a sound vision.  

What Kennedy said on this historic occasion can certainly readily apply to education, and more particularly, to student understanding of STEM.

While all STEM subject areas most assuredly encourage students to grapple with unique concepts, perhaps the greatest manifestation of experimentation comes in the endeavor of engineering.

A powerful illustration of this belief has been put forth by author, engineer, and educator Henry Petroski. He has said that “one of the paradoxes of engineering is that successes don’t teach you very much. A successful bridge teaches you that a bridge works. It does not teach you that the same bridge, built at a different location or made longer or taller, will be successful. It’s all theory until it’s completed (The Importance of Failure, Hendley).”

PCS takes to heart analyses like Petroski’s, and has incorporated these thoughts into the creation of powerful products that are designed to engage the mind while cultivating the young engineers of this generation. In our Discover Engineering kit, we offer hands-on building manipulatives and 3D Interactive Build Curriculum (3DIC). This specific set includes content that covers topics like gear trains, power ratios, and complex machines. When students interact with these materials, they are introduced to concepts at a pace which promotes experimentation and, in some cases, failure to achieve maximum success.

In sharing the vision of Robert F. Kennedy and Henry Petroski, we believe that equipping students with the necessary tools to appropriately learn information while potentially failing, will necessarily translate into eventual greater concept understanding and ultimately greater real world success.

References

Hendley, V. (n.d.). The importance of failure. Retrieved June 15, 2016, from http://www.prism-magazine.org/october/html/the_importance_of_failure.htm.

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