Failure in Making

The Notion of Failure and Maker Programming for Youth: Supporting the Professional Development, Reflection, and Learning of Informal Educators

Amber Simpson
Binghamton University
Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership

Alice Anderson
Minneapolis Institute of Art

Adam Maltese
Martha Lea and Bill Armstrong Chair for Teacher Education
Curriculum and Instruction Program
Indiana University




Interest in making and makerspaces -- collaborative workspaces where people can engage in a process of creating something from separate elements (using high and no tech tools) -- has grown steadily in recent years. While these spaces offer opportunity for individuals and multi-generational groups to work together, there is also more broad interest in structured youth programming that involves maker-related activities and content. Yet, research-informed professional development that focuses on how informal educators implement, plan, and handle ongoing, just-in-time support during moments of failure is scarce. Prior research supports the important role of failure in maker programming to increase learning, resilience, self-efficacy and other skills such as independence. This project will address the gap through adapting, implementing, and refining a professional development program for informal educators to productively attend, interpret, and respond to youths’ experiences with failure while engaged in maker programs. The contexts for this research are museums that provide maker programming. This Innovations in Development project uses a train-the-trainer approach to professional development. Up to two lead facilitators at each partnering institution experience an initial three-day workshop and ongoing support meetings during the first phase. In the second phase, the lead facilitators support other informal educators at their institution implementing making programs for youth. This project will enhance the infrastructure for research and education as collaborations and professional learning communities will be established among a variety of informal learning institutions. Core partners include: The Tech Museum of Innovation, The Bakken Museum, Montshire Museum of Science, The Minneapolis Institute of Art, Thinkery, and Amazeum Children’s Museum.

The central hypothesis framing the work is that a professional development program focused on supporting informal educators' instructional practices on ways to respond to youths' experiences with failure will have a positive impact on developing participants developing pedagogical practices around failure, as well as developing youths' affinity for resilience during making tasks and a strong sense of self as a maker. The project utilizes a strengths-based perspective of the resilience that allows the team to consider promotive factors or variables that help youth overcome negative effects of failures. The project draws from research highlighting the positive impact of professional development on teacher knowledge and beliefs, classroom practice, and student outcomes adapting the Problem-Solving Cycle model of Borko, Koellner, and Swackhamer to the context of museums. The specific R&D aims are to: (1) Investigate features of the professional development models that best support lead facilitators in supporting informal educators in attending, interpreting, and responding to youths' experiences with failure while engaged in making tasks; (2) Investigate changes of informal educators' pedagogical practice around youths' experiences with failures through engaging in the professional development models; and (3) Examine shifts in youths' resiliency and perception of failure. A goal of the work is to raise the importance of failure in the overall learning process. The iterative nature of this project will be informed by the collection and analysis of video data of professional development sessions and informal educators facilitating maker programs, reflective journaling, surveys regarding the professional development, and pre-post surveys from youth engaged in the maker programs. Dissemination will address multiple stakeholders, including informal educators, program developers, evaluators, researchers, and public audiences.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program (grants #2005927 and #2005860), which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.