Failure: Criterion for Success

Earlier this month, I watched students Andrew L, Joshua I and Joschua M take their hand assembled drone for its inaugural flight. At the time, I remember being both astonished by this accomplishment and wanting to celebrate alongside them – It was just that cool! Mr. Brice, their science teacher and sponsor, helped explain that while this flight marked the resolution of a number of challenges the students faced along the way, this test flight was not the end, and in fact, a new beginning for further tinkering, calibrations, and modifying components. As soon as their drone touched down, I caught a glimpse of what he was referring to.  The boys sprung into action and began immediately reflecting on what went well, what still needed tweaking, and how they would go about fixing it. Their “back to the drawing table” attitude towards improving their design was impressive, to say the least. From an educator’s lens, I don’t think the idea of failure being a design criterion had ever been more clear. 


After a few days I sat down with Mr. Brice where it quickly became apparent that the boys were the ones who a) had approached him and b) were drawing from numerous sources to educate themselves and drive this project forward. While the boys initially got together because of their common interests: Joschua’s love of flight, the other Joshua love for wires and understanding how to solder them along with Andrew’s experience from a DJI summer course he had attended the previous summer, I came to discover that this mutual desire to learn about drones had quickly expanded to a matrix of teachers, parents, and DJI support staff.  When prompted Andrew, asserts that by this point, their process was less ad hoc and more systematic and in line with the methods of investigation they were covering in their science classes.  While there is often no magic bullet for sustaining student buy-in, the work and energy that was being generated by these students seemed to not only reflect the unique confluence of problem-finding and play it also provided clues to how educators might help nurture that authenticity and sense of ownership in their students’ learning.    

With that, according to the students and Mr. Brice, one aspect of the build that was particularly interesting was the routing of wires. Once the team understood the “why” and the decision to modify their drone kit was made, they began by shortening some of the wires to the motors – their objective was to reduce the overall weight of the drone while organizing the wiring in a way that made more sense to them. He continues, that it is always a bit tense when you are modifying a component but ultimately we were very happy with the changes we made and the several grams of weight we were able to shave off the drone’s overall mass – something that ultimately improved its performance and flight time.


Although born outside of the classroom, this project has had a ripple effects and created new questions (in class) around scientific method, the design process and how to drive student learning. New drone projects from other students are popping up as well as new recruits emerging to volunteer to work with Andrew and the team. Student-driven initiatives such as making these projects part of a club are also underway. We are also  seeing a renewed interest for programming, working with Arduino boards and perhaps most importantly, the emergence of student experts who are sharing and helping to expand each other’s definition of learning as an authentic experience. Ultimately, this project flourished because of curiosity, collaboration and the learning network these student created for themselves.

If you are looking to be a part of and begin building your own drones, please see one of our in-house experts! (Andrew, Joshua, Joschua, Steve) or their Facebook page on the issue.

The learning Innovation Team

Grade 3 Inventors at SIS

B78FmkFCYAADAfLEnduring Understanding: Inventors create new inventions based on the needs and wants of society

In addition to learning about impact of inventors and inventions on society, grade 3 students at Shekou International School became inventors themselves in a series of activities and projects centered around design thinking, collaboration and reflection.

All three grade 3 teachers, Nicki Ruthaivilavan, Frank Machinello, and Leticia Carino, attended Design Thinking workshops at the Learning 2.014 conference in October and immediately began applying the concept to their Social Studies unit on Inventors and Inventions. In preparation for students becoming design thinkers and inventors, the grade 3 teachers decided to have their students do Design Challenges (STEM) on the four Fridays leading up to the beginning of the unit. These experiences were used to discuss collaboration and problem-solving through reflection using the 6 Thinking Hats reflection method.

After studying and researching famous inventions and their inventors, grade 3 students began their own journeys as inventors using the Design Thinking Process to guide them.

One class (3A) used the City X Project’s simulation to design inventions to solve problems for the citizens of a (fictional) new colony on a far away planet. The other two classes (3B & 3C) teamed with our elementary school librarian, Gaylene Livingston, to create prototypes for a portable book drop. Additionally, students also used the Design Process at home to create an invention to address a problem for themselves or others.

The unit culminated with the grade 3 Invention Convention on January 22 where students displayed, explained and reflected on their many inventions, created both individually and in groups.


You can learn more about our grade 3 inventors and their inventions through teacher posts on their classroom blogs and many of their Tweets.

3A Enthusiastic Learners
    City X Project and Design Process
    Reflecting on Our City X Project

3B – Mrs. Ruthai’s Class
    Invention Convention Information
    Invention Convention

3C Mr. Machinello’s Groovy Geckos
     Design Thinking Challenge
     Design Challenge: Catapults

Design Thinking Resources

David Lee Ed Tech (Design Thinking Resources)
Making Things Better: Design Thinking in the Classroom (John Rinker)
City X Project
Design Thinking for Educators
Design Thinking in Schools
Design Squad (PBS)
Design Challenges (Museum of Science, Boston)

Design Thinking and Fitness

Knofick FITT is fully up and running through another round of FITT goals for 9th and 10th grade students.  This project has really blossomed into a fantastic proof of concept for using Design Thinking for goal setting.  Students have recently finished their first round of FITT goals and are in the process of “Choosing” and “Adapting” goals through the end of the year.

263797412_origGraphic Source:

Student reflection videos are currently being posted to a shared playlist.  Students commented on their progress, modifications that might need to be made, and whether or not the social media aspect helped keep them accountable for their goal.

Stay Tuned project updates!!!