Failure Is An Option

Earlier this semester Mike Bycraft’s middle school robotics students encountered one of their most challenging assignments: designing and building a robot. Below, five students share their learning process and consider the unexpected value of failure. We open with the culminating activity, a soccer match between all the finished robots.



Now Ronaldo Jr. has the ball, he is dribbling across the field and.. Oh no, Messi Jr. has trapped him! The ball is moving back and forth with such speed, and, OH, Ronaldo scores!!!

The superstars of the soccer world amaze us as they compete in worldwide soccer tournaments, from the Fifa World Cup to the Olympics. But here, robots take over the stadium as they duel for the ball and for the pride of victory.

Our robot, Ronaldo Jr, went through many challenges, but throughout the design process – as we modified and tested it several times – it improved in several aspects. Not only the robot, but we ourselves improved as team players and robot-builders.

In the end, our robot was fairly successful, for it could easily trap the soccer ball and push it to the other players. However, we did find problems: the ball kept escaping from our robot’s grip; the structure sometimes broke in places; and the most unexpected – the controlling was difficult. One key part in this project was based on the skills of the controller. It vastly affects a player’s role in game play and if the pilot can’t maneuver the robot easily, that becomes a minus to the team.

After several practices, controlling became fluent and we had great finals!

Ronaldo Jr. will always remind us that if you keep trying, even if it takes multiple times, the moment that soccer ball shoots into the goal is just like when you put that last lego piece into your robot. A completion of a goal is what gives you the courage to push on to greater heights.

Justina & Joy

Our robot was supposed to play soccer well and skillfully. Our robot began as a simple design of a treadmill, but it was slower than we thought it would be. It wasn’t fast enough for it to snatch the ball from the opponents. So we continued to work and alter our robot in order for success. We then changed the treadmill to the wheels in order to make it go faster. However, our robot was still not functioning as well as the others when it came to grabbing the ball. First, we made a basket like arms but it kept falling apart and didn’t work out. So we planned to change the arms into claws that can pick up the ball but it started spinning like crazy. So finally, we added gears to sustain our claws into a stable position where it can stop spinning but still grab the ball.

We almost gave up out of depression that our robot will fail resulting in a terrible grade (which leads to angry moms). We promised each other to be positive and continue which led through a hard and annoying process but it was still fun as we got to work with each other and make it to our success.

Je Young & Luke

We learned that failure can either help or harm us during projects. For example if you see failures or mistakes in the robot, but you ignore them and try to make it work, it will harm your project as more time is taken up and you don’t really explore original or new aspects that could be added to the robot, harming the project. However, if you take those failures into heart and try to fix them through repeated testing, it’ll actually help your project as you usually find a way make whatever project successful. To take an example from our robot, our robot had slanted blades to help control the robot more smoothly, but after we built the prototype of it, it had some problems like getting caught on the rough surface or the ball slipping through the cage, we tried different positions for the blade, and we kept trying different styles to get the best efficiency eventually, we ended up putting the blade one place up and putting the angle of the blade steeper, and that made the robot’s movement with the ball more smoother, which affected our gameplay in a good way.

Robotics4Our grades and our feeling towards keeping responsibility helped us endure throughout the endeavor. Firstly, during this point of time, most students are worried about grades, some more or less than others, and we are no exception. We strived to get a good grade to satisfy our family and not have them beat us with a belt. Also, more or less depending on the group member, our urge to be responsible also motivated us to keep trying, as we know that when we grow up, matters won’t be held in such loose regard as in school. Therefore, we are trying early on to be adapted to the responsibilities that we will face in the real world when we get a career. Finally, one of the motivation were to try and prove that our idea wasn’t a failure. When we started building most of the people around us started building claw robots, and because of the gameplay of that the robot showed was great, most of the people started building claw robots. However, we didn’t want to follow another person’s idea, and we wanted to show that we could play better or similar to the claw robot, and we kept developing and fixing our robot, so at the final gameplay, we had an excellent result.

Robotics5One of the things I changed after the experience is trying my best on things, like other projects or homework. In this project, I learned that if you try your hardest, you are likely to succeed at what you are doing, because in this project our robot finally worked after we tried and tried. When I tried hard on other projects, the good thing is that if I do try my best it I usually succeed or get a good result, and even though it doesn’t turn out good, you have less regret, since you know you tried your best.

This also applied to how look at long term projects in terms of how we carry out the work. I learned that in the beginning, you have to be patient and keep a cool head when tackling matters that come against your way such as failure. This can be seen in our robot project, as our robot failed to control the ball efficiently in the beginning of the project, but due to me and my group having a cool head and trying numerous ideas while being patient with the results, we eventually ended up with the best robot in the entire classroom.

Thank you Mike Bycraft for encouraging students to reflect on failure. Thank you Minseo, Justina, Joy, Je Young and Luke for sharing your learning experience with us. You can read Minseo’s thoughtful response to failure here.

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