Reframing “Failure” in Making: The Value of Play, Social Relationships, and Ownership

Jean J. Ryoo, Linda Kekelis


Building on grit and growth mindset literature, the “maker mindset” celebrates persistence through failure as key to inspiring creativity in making education. Yet, moving beyond examinations of individual persistence and assumptions that all people have the same wealth of resources to persevere, when is it worthwhile to work through challenging projects? What supports are necessary for youth to feel safe working through challenges in science, technology, engineering, math, and computing (STEM+C) activities? Using sociocultural theory as a lens, this ethnographic study analyzed observation field notes, videos, photos, student work, and interviews from an after-school making program for high school girls during the 2014-15 school year. Through a comparison of 2 groups—one that persisted through challenging moments and one that did not—this paper reveals the centrality of playfulness, teamwork, and ownership of projects in order to persist through challenges that arise in inquiry-based projects.


making; failure; persistence; play; sociocultural theories of learning; collaborative learning; project ownership

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