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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Reframing Failure as Iteration Allows Students to Thrive

At New York City's game-based learning school Quest to Learn, sixth graders take risks in the process of designing a Rube Goldberg machine, which enables more creativity, innovation, and engagement. Learn more about this classroom.

Reframing Failure as Iteration Allows Students to Thrive (Transcript)

Boy: A Rube Goldberg machine is complicated for a simple task.

Girl: Boss Level is a week where we work with our home base to complete a project by the end of the week. And we also don't have homework or any other of our usual classes.

Teacher: You walk into a Boss Level classroom, you're not seeing really a classroom. All of the desks and tables are pushed aside. You're seeing a lot of materials of all different sorts that are kind of strewn around. You see a lot of sixth graders either tinkering or in a group brainstorming, possibly sketching. It's a lot of creativity and innovation going on in the space.

Boy: We could do something like this, if we had a hole.

Boy: How about this one?

Girl: They're tiny.

Boy: No, we already have a marble.

Girl: I know.

Boy: Yeah, I fixed them here.

Boy: Wait, wait, wait, wait. To make it look cool--

Teacher: My favorite part about Boss Level is the actual building phase. When kids fail during the creation of Rube Goldberg and then they iterate, they are really learning to take risks.

Girl: Failure is really bad, but I guess if you have a good attitude, then you can always make it what you wanted it to be and not to get frustrated. So failure's not so bad if you know how to fix it.

Boy: Failure reframed as iteration means when you fail, just try again. [music playing]

Kids: Yeeeahhh!!!

What?! What, what... NO, Nooooo!

Teacher: Students really take a lot of ownership for the machines that they create. Their advisor is in the room, but their advisor really is not helping to do any of the building, or even creating. They're really just there as an adult to help facilitate and to make sure that things are going smoothly and safely. So if you walk into a Boss Level classroom, you really see the students as teachers, as learners, as innovators, and they are really helping each other through the iteration process. They are creating this blueprint for their machine in the beginning. They're putting it to the test, they're watching it, they're seeing where the kinks are, where they need to iterate and they are going through this process really on their own. I think that's also a really great thing about the process, to be able to watch students move through this system on their own and actually succeed at it.

Girl: Home base is... I think it might be a little bit like a homeroom.

Teacher: To be able to see students really incorporate things that they learn in home base and model that during the building is really a great process. One of my home base students, who's in eighth grade now, talks all the time about how he feels that Rube Goldberg was what really brought us together as a home base. So it's a really great moment for us.

Boy: Since you have to work together and you spend a lot of time together in a classroom or in a confined space, that you really get to know one another and how one another works.

Boy: If you're doing a Rube Goldberg machine, you need to have a lot of teamwork so that one person isn't just working on the front and like a million people are working on the middle. You need to have an even share of everything.

Teacher: Having gone through the Rube Goldberg process with my own home base, it really proved to be beneficial for many reasons. I mean, not only are they implementing skills that they've learned in the classroom, but as a home base, you really see them bond and really build. You know, they're really kind of stuck in a room for days at a time and they have to really learn how to get along, how to share ideas, how to respect ideas. Teamwork is probably the most important facet of Rube Goldberg building.

Girl: If one person makes one part of the machine and another person makes another part of the machine, if they don't work together, those parts won't work together either and it probably will not complete its goal.

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  • Director / Camera / Editor: JR Sheetz
  • Associate Producer, Edutopia: Douglas Keely
  • Senior Manager of Video, Edutopia: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Special Thanks: Quest to Learn, Rachelle Vallon and her students

This video was originally produced by Institute of Play, and was made possible through generous support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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Comments (3)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Annie Simard's picture
Annie Simard
Grade 4/5 French Immersion Teacher

I <3 Rube Goldberg! Thanks for sharing! I'm definitely going to share this video with my colleagues and students before embarking on another Rube Goldberg adventure this year.

I've started making a list of the ones I like. Here it is, in case some of you are interested.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Brilliant! I often think that we need to bring failure back in to schools. By that, I mean that we need to allow students to understand when things haven't worked like they wanted, and then support them (not belittle or criticise them) to do it better next time. I know this is hard to fit into the standard school based assessment, but I've often found that failure teaches far more than continual success.

Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)'s picture
Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)
Senior Manager of Video Programming, Production, & Curation at Edutopia

Thanks for the list, Annie!

Here's a little goldmine for you -- education curator Larry Ferlazzo has a great list of Rube Golderg machine videos and resources here:

The Best Resources For Learning About Rube Goldberg Machines

Best of luck with your own Rube Goldberg adventures!

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