Practice Brief 36 -- Topics: Engineering Practices

Failing Forward: Managing Student Frustration During Engineering Design Projects

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Why It Matters To You
  • Teachers should communicate to students that engineering design requires sustained effort and repeated trials in order to learn through failure.
  • District staff and PD providers should help teachers develop strategies for managing student frustration and reframing "failure" as productive.
  • School leaders should communicate with stakeholders about the value of creating classroom cultures where students engage in engineering design and learn through failure.

What is the Issue?

The new vision for science education calls for students to engage in engineering design across K-12. These are iterative processes that require learning through repeated attempts and failures—something many students are not accustomed to. Such failures can lead to significant student frustration and discouragement. Given this, it is critical that educators be able to manage and redirect students' frustration, so that students can "fail forward" and learn how to learn from iterative cycles of engineering design.



Reflection Questions

  • How do you currently manage frustration and failure in your classroom? What new strategies fit your situation? Can you tap students with design expertise to help other students?
  • Do you provide enough time for students to collaborate and iterate on their designs?
  • Do your students believe that learning is accomplished through effort or that some are "just naturals?" Read why praise might be counterproductive. Experts are made, not born.

Things to Consider

Characteristics of Scientific Inquiry & Engineering Design

Scientific Inquiry:

  • Demands evidence
  • Is a blend of logic and imagination
  • Explains and predicts
  • Tries to identify and avoid bias
  • Is not authoritarian

Engineering / Technological Design:

  • Is purposeful
  • Is based on certain requirements
  • Is systematic
  • Is iterative
  • Is creative
  • Allows many possible solutions

From NRC Engineering in K-12 Education

Attending to Equity

Recommended Actions You Can Take


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