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


  • Jean J. Ryoo University of California, Los Angeles
  • Linda Kekelis STEM Next Opportunity Fund



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


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.

Author Biographies

Jean J. Ryoo, University of California, Los Angeles

Jean Ryoo, PhD, is the Director of Research and Co-PI of the REAL-CS/Exploring Computer Science project at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Jean's work focuses on equity issues related to STEM and computer science education, seeking ways to support efforts that value the perspectives and cultural practices that non-dominant youth bring to learning environments.  

Linda Kekelis, STEM Next Opportunity Fund

Linda Kekelis, PhD, was the founder and CEO of Techbridge Girls. Currently, she is a consultant for the STEM Next Opportunity Fund, with a longstanding commitment for ensuring that all youth, particularly girls and youth of color, have access to STEM opportunities. Family engagement has been at the center of the research and programs Linda has led.


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