Failure for Success – STEM at SET

A smiling SET High student holds a bright lightbulb attached to their electric switch they created in engineering class. STEM rules!

Failure for Success – STEM at SET

Wait! What do we mean by that? How dare we use the “F” word, “Failure” here. Consider for a moment that we need to normalize that failure is an essential part of life, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. When we learn from trial and error, when we learn from failures instead of feeling devastated and ruined, we grow with a healthy curiosity to try again, get comfortable with the discovery journey, and find better solutions. And what safer place to learn this than in high school?


SET High is not your typical free public high school in San Diego. As part of setting up our students for success, we create plentiful options for flexible, cooperative, and collaborative learning.  We adjust to each student’s journey from high school to the “real world,” and we are big on experimenting… and embracing failure. Failure is the norm in science, like when rockets won’t launch, or as Thomas Edison said: 

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

We purposefully don’t give our students the answers. We believe students won’t be motivated to care until they see how this scientific process works in school and in professional labs.

Winning at Failure

Failing does not mean not winning. In fact, in STEM, failure is essential for success. According to many recent papers in the scientific world, failure in science leads to some of the best discoveries. Failure also offers opportunities to learn how to refine a process or make improvements impossible to see without having had the experiments in the first place. Studying and practicing science in and of itself encourages finding opportunities in repetitive failures. 

Perseverance through setbacks and failures is an important trait of successful scientists, as learning from failure is hard-wired into the scientific method,” cites a paper in the National Library of Medicine, Science students’ perspectives on how to decrease the stigma of failure.

Let’s not pick on only Science. The Engineering field is well-known for hilarious robot fails that are brought to light every year at the DARPA Challenge. These are failures made public after years of trial and error behind the scenes. Imagine what robotics engineers encounter when building and programming robots to perform specific tasks, and then put them up for a national competition. You can understand how it is not a flawless journey. Are these engineers worse off every time they meet a program glitch or mathematical hitch? Of course not. 

“Courage is like — it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: you get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.” – Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, Biochemist

We at SET welcome failure. In fact, we encourage it. We want our students to pursue their passions, and if that’s in Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Math, they can dig in with open, curious minds and courageous hearts, embracing the failures to come. We are there when they fail and ask them to try again. And when they fail again, more learning opportunities arise. This makes our students more ready for college, the hiring process, and career-building pathways. So when they purposefully venture into the STEM world, they do so with healthy expectations and the bring-it-on spirit we need in today’s competitive world. Let’s go. Bring it on, failure! Let us be well acquainted friends. Ready to learn with us? Enroll in SET today!

About SET High 

SET High offers each student individual attention from multi-talented, highly qualified teachers. Students build a healthy camaraderie with classmates inside an intellectually rigorous environment that brings out individual talents and personality, helping develop character and direction in life. With a wide variety of electives, flexible scheduling, dual enrollment college classes and more — our students regularly exceed academic and personal expectations. Enrolling now!