Failing forward

This summer, I’ve been bitten by a bug. The technology bug. You see, not only am I a teacher by day and derby girl by night, I am a geek gamer girl at all times. I’ve been playing games since I could hold a controller, and been on the internet since it was barely a thing. I bought my last computer in 2009, and I’m reaching a point where my current setup is getting a little creaky for even simple things like opening Firefox, or saving a document. Loading Skyrim is a chore, and Civilization V? I might as well go make a sandwich while waiting for the loading screen. Buying a new computer is so expensive… but you can also save a boatload of money if you do the labor yourself.

If you’ve never built a computer before, it’s rather simple yet terrifying. To learn how to put together the actual components, all you have to do is wander over to Youtube and search ‘how to build a computer’. (I used Newgg’s PC build video, because knowing computer parts is kinda their thing.) The terrifying part is, if you do something wrong, you are potentially out a hundred bucks or more. I’ve upgraded my computers before, but by ‘upgrade’ I mean putting in new RAM (which is nearly impossible to mess up) or getting a new keyboard. Anyone can do that stuff. But to put together my own gaming computer, now that is a point of pride!

So why am I blathering about building computers in a teaching blog? It’s easy: I failed. Fail is a word we use a lot in the education world, and I’m starting to get frustrated with it because it has a double meaning. The first one is FAIL as in YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE AND YOU BLEW IT. And then there’s FAIL as in First Attempt In Learning. I am trying to use it more as the second one (which implies that you can and will get more chances to practice) but students, parents, and other teachers are far more attuned to the first usage. Students, sadly, also tend to equate ‘you failed’ with ‘you’re stupid’ and withdraw rather than giving it another go, whatever it is.

Today, I got all my parts ready. I made sure to discharge my static repeatedly. The hardest parts for me, ironically, were placing the CPU fan (it required more force than I expected) and removing the front bay window to install my CD drive. I assembled the main components, did my test boot, everything beeped properly, hooray! Then I put the rest of it together, and tested again. More beeps, hooray! Then I inserted my Windows disk, walked away for a moment to clean up while the boot disk loaded, and came back to a dead computer.

I don’t know what what happened. Things were going so well, then suddenly I can’t even get it to pretend like it’s functional. I failed somewhere. But the second type of fail – First Attempt In Learning. I’ve never put a computer together before. There are a million little things that I could’ve messed up. I could’ve screwed something into the wrong place, connected something incorrectly, or touched a contact with my sweaty, nervous hands that made the connection short. Worst case scenario, something got fried, but I can replace it under warranty.Tomorrow, I’ll have to try again. Like my students, I got too frustrated to continue today. It’s important for us (both as teachers and students) to know when to keep pushing, or when to take a break. I suppose I could declare this project too hard, and enjoy my $700 paperweight/cat condo. So try again it is, and things will go faster tomorrow, even though I have to take the whole thing apart and put it back together again, possibly more than once. I may have failed at the ultimate goal today – a functional computer – but I definitely learned lots along the way. Maybe it won’t be working by the end of tomorrow, but I bet I’ll know even more. Someday I’ll get it working properly, and then I can have something to be truly proud of.

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