November 28, 2018

Why We Need to Set Our Kids Up to Fail


This Hour of Code, inject playful failure into every invention session!

By Ayah Bdeir, Founder at littleBits

Anyone, anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event. This year, as a partner to Code.org, littleBits is excited to donate Code Kits to 25 classrooms looking for physical computing kits to use with their students as part of this year’s festivities. But we want to do more.

So, we are gearing up to celebrate coding in the best way we know how: we want to set kids up to fail. Let me explain!

code.org, hour of code, littleBits

Reshma Saujani, who founded Girls Who Code, has said: “We need to start focusing on bravery over perfection.” This resonates with us at littleBits, where we believe that kids exist in a world full of epic challenges: social, political, financial, environmental. To prepare them to take on this uncertain future, they will need to add STEM skills to their toolkit of life skills. Yet, many kids aren’t even learning the fundamentals of STEM in school.

The best way to prepare kids for the future is to give them the skills to be fearless and creative so they can invent the word they want to live in. We need to help them feel comfortable adapting to situations with which they are unfamiliar, and to reinforce resilience. We need to give them an hour of code, unrestrained!

Professor Seymour Papert, who founded the “learning through making” movement, said it perfectly: “We need to produce people who know how to act when they are faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared.”

We need to teach our kids to fail, and to do it well.

The Importance of Playful Failure

Since 2016, we at littleBits started embracing the idea of “playful failure.” We stumbled on to the idea the hard way.

During user testing sessions very early on in the development of our Droid Inventor Kit, we realized that some kids were having a meltdown during the play process. They would make a mistake, be frustrated, and even cry. That was not only shocking but also demoralizing: I started littleBits to empower kids and inspire them, not to make them cry! This was a huge wake-up call for us, so we began to analyze what was happening.

littleBits, code kit, kids working

After some initial research to understand external trends, we then went back to our own user testing to dive into why — and how — the meltdowns were occurring. It turns out that kids are anxious because they don’t have opportunities to fail in their everyday lives, and parents tend to aggravate this anxiety, so when kids fail they think it’s their fault.

Ultimately, we realized that kids did not understand that they were embarking on a process of invention or trial and error. They are used to following directions and putting together puzzles where there is only one right answer. So when kids are faced with learning STEM skills, a process that is circuitous and has lots of left turns and ups and downs, they think they are doing it wrong.

Our job is to create the conditions for invention — and to build in the opportunity for kids to fail. We realized we had to mentally prepare kids, as well as parents, to sit comfortably with failure. We want to give kids the opportunity to learn through trial and error; providing them the opportunity to have fun, be creative, embrace their own confidence; and to fail. It means encouraging kids to take risks and to innovate when things don’t go to plan.

Failure is Not a Bad Thing

Today, parents and teachers tell kids that failure is a bad thing — that failing a test is essentially a shortcut to self-destruction. As a result, kids become anxious when they don’t have opportunities to fail in their everyday lives, and parents tend to aggravate this anxiety.

The end result? When kids fail, they take it as a signal of their self worth; they erroneously believe that they are failures. To be honest, failure may very well define what a person is capable of, but not in the way we think. Hour of Code helps to change that, and so can we.

If we want to nurture the newest generation of entrepreneurs and makers to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems, we need to reinforce the idea that failure is an expected part of the invention and problem-solving process. Play is one of the most important ways we can prepare kids for the future, and to make education more exciting for them. Not only that, play time is the best time to set kids up to fail.

So this Hour of Code, keep the principles of playful failure in mind as you work to demystify coding for the problem-solvers and changemakers of our future!

Join littleBits for a coding webinar on December 6, 2018 at 4PM ET to discuss strategies for taking your coding instruction to the next level!


Posted in: Education, Educators, Events, STEM/STEAM
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