Failure. Yikes. Shorten it by 3 letters and it’s as bad as the other four letter words that I know.

My students hate failure and avoid it at all costs. I mean hey, they’re middle schoolers and any chance of them being shamed publicly is enough reason to try their hardest to avoid not doing well.

However, this is a problem… because I teach STEM. I’m going to provide you with a few easy steps to take to explain to you students why it is so important to fail. Try these before your next STEM activity and see if it helps your students out! Be aware, you must be teaching students to fail gracefully.

Failure written on scrabble tiles

Failure should be recognized in the classroom. The more students fail at tasks, the more they are learning.

STEP ONE: Tell them they’re going to fail before starting a STEM activity.

This is a crucial step along the Engineering Design Process. No matter who is creating something, there will be times that it does not work and needs to be fixed in some manner. This is completely normal and a part of the process!

So tell your students that they won’t be successful on the first try. *This is setting them up for success in the long run*

STEP TWO: Explain a time you tried something and it went HORRIBLY WRONG!

There’s got to be a time you tried to do something new and it was a disaster. My advice is to share about that time and the emotions you felt leading up to, during, and after you did the activity.

For me it was parallel parking right before I took my driver’s test in high school. I go into details with my class about why it was challenging and the emotions that went through my head when I was practicing. Full disclosure, twelve years later and I still avoid doing it.

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair

Photo by Nathan Cowley on

STEP THREE: Discuss the emotions involved in teaching students to fail.

Explaining that fear, anger, resentment, sadness, frustration, etc is all part of the process makes a student aware that these emotions are okay to feel.

If we can acknowledge that these emotions 100% suck for us and tell that to our students, they know that when they occur that they’ll be prepared and ready to face them.

STEP FOUR: Develop your own definition of GRIT.

Talk about GRIT with your students. It’s that feeling that you’re going to push through and finish something even when it is hard. Telling your class that it will take will power and inner strength to keep trying even when you are failing is so important.

You can highlight some famous people who kept trying even when they were failing. My favorite go to person for this is J.K. Rowling (author of Harry Potter Series). She went to twelve different publishers and they all turned her down. Twelve people read Harry Potter and said no to the series. I mean who does that? What J.K. Rowling had was grit and she demonstrated that by never giving up in her pursuit of being a published author.

J.K. Rowling in an interview discussing the Harry Potter Series.

J.K. Rowling discussing how failure led her to being an award winning, best selling novelist.

STEP FIVE: Overcome that failure feeling and do the work.

Now that you’ve discussed with your students all about what it means to fail, it’s time to send them off to complete the STEM investigation. You have prepared them for the challenges ahead and it is now their turn to overcome the overwhelm that is involved with failure. During the STEM activity, make sure you lend support if the students need it and encourage them to keep trying even when things aren’t working in their favor.

Don’t just stop at teaching students to fail, build them up for success by teaching them how to collaborate and communicate within groups. Click here to see HOW I teach these important STEM  skills.

And of course… Let me know how it goes! I’d love you to tell me how this went, you can leave a comment below of your thoughts or email me at

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