When Ayden K-F. began designing a prototype for an articulated robotic hand, he was meticulous in outlining the steps and materials he would need to be successful. Ayden, a ninth-grader at The Marin School, took on an ambitious project for his freshman seminar passion project. Thirteen-year-old classmate Emily M., already an accomplished musician who’s proficient in Spanish guitar, wanted to transcribe and play a Willie Nelson song that she loved.
Fast forward a few weeks to the deadline, and both Ayden and Emily presented standout projects. Neither of them had met the goal originally outlined in their projects, but both felt extremely proud of the final product. In fact, they both were more successful because their projects did not end up as originally intended. Planning a successful project requires more than just outlining the steps; requires flexibility and responsiveness throughout the process. And learning from your mistakes is a far more satisfying experience in the long run, especially as you build resilience.
As we know, things don’t always go as planned. When the original parts for the robotic hand didn’t fit and Ayden had to find a new solution, or when Emily realized that it’s much more complex to transcribe music by ear and to translate from treble to bass clef than she expected — did they give up? No, they went back to the drawing board. They demonstrated resilience by trying a new iteration, and they practiced self-advocacy by asking for help. What better skills are there for success in the 21st century?
The Marin School’s freshman seminar passion project is designed to intertwine information literacy, social-emotional learning and design-thinking skills into an independently managed project. Students are guided to discover an area that is of deep interest to them, and then to build a program that encompasses their individual and unique interests. Through research and reflection, students are empowered to develop their own goals. These projects then culminate in a presentation, and the student is free to choose any format to present their findings, experience, product, etc. These presentations ultimately demonstrate mastery of time management as well as exhibit self-reflection and personal growth. They also illustrate that challenges, barriers and obstacles are the building blocks of any great project.
Even more importantly, students learn that “failure” is an opportunity rather than a disaster. When these students presented their final projects, they shared with their peers how when things went poorly, they were able to try something different and benefit so much more from the process. Ultimately, they learned a lesson that will benefit them for the rest of their lives: You can’t fail if you don’t give up.
Through the freshman seminar passion project, the students at The Marin School have learned that when things don’t go as planned, it usually means you are on the right track! Even when we fail, we find unexpected success in the process.