June 15, 2014
June 15, 2014
June 18, 2014
K-12 & Pre-College Engineering
24.980.1 - 24.980.36
Using and Euphemizing the F-word: Perspectives on Failure in the Classroom by Elementary Teachers New to Teaching Engineering (Research-to-Practice) This mixed-methods study draws from empirical evidence to explore how elementaryteachers new to teaching engineering perceive of concepts of student failure and persistence inand outside of the engineering design process. This work responds to arguments amongengineering educators that K-12 engineering education brings students experiences learning howto fail, persisting in the face of failure, and learning from failure. The importance of failure in thelearning process is a feature of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, discussed as part of thetheoretical context of this study. Despite arguments for the adoption of a growth mindset byteachers and children in K-12 education, failure as an essential learning experience is much lessubiquitous than is learning that is carefully scaffolded by the teacher. Further, little has beendocumented in the research literature about teachers’ perspectives on how failure experiencescan be incorporated into the classroom setting. To explore teachers’ perceptions of failure, this study includes analysis of survey datafrom approximately 250 third through fifth-grade elementary teachers participating in a multi-state research project. The survey was given to teachers prior to receiving professionaldevelopment to prepare them to teach engineering to their students. Four survey questions,including open-ended and Likert scale questions, were about failure and persistence. In addition,41 of those teachers participated in semi-structured, audio-recorded interviews about failure afterreceiving professional development. Interviews lasted approximately 30 minutes, on average. A somewhat unsurprising finding from survey analysis was that the word “failure” ismore often associated with unproductive experiences and negative feelings (e.g., “notacceptable,” “not and option,” “loser”) than it was associated with productive experiences andpositive feelings (e.g., “learning,” “an opportunity to learn,” “an indication to regroup, revise,and try again”). Survey results also indicated that while teachers readily supported the idea ofencouraging students to persist, few allowed students to regularly fail (e.g., 25% of teachersstated that they never allowed their students to fail). Interviews and open-ended survey responses demonstrated how jarring the words "fail"and "failure" can be to some educators and how unlikely they are to use those words. Further,these qualitative data suggested that even when teachers indicate that they value failure andincorporate failure experiences in their classrooms, these teachers utilize euphemisms (e.g.,“making mistakes”) rather than using a variant of the loaded “f-word” (i.e., “failure,” “fail”). This study has two major implications. First, the study suggests how the persistent desirein education to scaffold students’ learning and ensure successful outcomes may be at odds with agrowth mindset that utilizes failure as a mechanism to support learning. Second, the studysuggests that teachers range in their likelihood to adopt a growth mindset that includes failureexperiences; for some, the classroom culture seems ripe for making failure productive andexplicit, while for others, this aspect of engineering education may be dampened by euphemisms,if addressed at all.
Lottero-Perdue, P. S., & Parry, E. A. (2014, June), Perspectives on Failure in the Classroom by Elementary Teachers New to Teaching Engineering Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22913
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