Failure v. Constructionist

I have always heard that you learn more from failure than from success. This may be true but I think that it only works when the person truly tries to succeed, “fails,” and has the determination to build themselves back up again and try again. Where learning by failure fails is when the failure is emphasized or required.

I agree with Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager when they write that our culture has confused failure with iteration (Martinez and Stager 2013). In constructionist learning the student, or learner, constantly tries new things and slowly shapes their design or project. When new things don’t work they aren’t deemed failures, there is no grade or scolding, they are simply parts of the design that didn’t work as expected. For example when making my Maker Faire project for next weeks blog post a small part of my PokéStop design didn’t work, there were huge gaps between sheets of foam board and the cuts were all ragged. I took the constructionist approach and viewed these as surprise problems to be solved and not failures in my design. With some improvisation and a heavy amount of sheetrock putty my design continued on.

Another huge problem with promoting failure is when it is built into the assignment. What happens when a student makes a very well thought design and their idea works perfectly, but the design called for several drafts where the student must find huge mistakes to fix. For a student who succeeded with their first design this can lead to a lot of head banging trying to improve a great design, and possibly lead the student to go back and purposely create flawed drafts to be submitted as first and second attempts. This student didn’t learn anything by failure, they just did busy work to appease a teacher.


Martinez, S., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom.



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