This qualitative study applies Positioning Theory to identify positions that mediate the experiences of design failure within the context of an afterschool engineering club (EC) with elementary students diverse in language, race, ethnicity, gender, and academic abilities. We ask: (1) What kinds of structural design failure and failure responses did participants in EC experience? and (2) What are students’ and teachers’ positions in relation to responses to design failure? Types of positions (e.g., builder, tinkerer, idea-elicitor, director, observer) were identified in relation to children’s and teachers’ actions and speech in response to structural design failure during EC. Participants included 12 third-grade students and four teachers involved in EC for eight weeks. Data sources include audio transcripts, video, and field notes. Twenty-four design failure episodes were identified and transcribed multimodally from video, followed by coding of episodes using a multimodal Positioning Theory analytical framework. Findings discuss the kinds of engineering design actions and associated positionings unfolding in response to failure as well as the positions mediating teacher and student responses to design. We highlight the importance of student and teacher mediation as well as how Positioning Theory can be used to expand our understanding of (re)positionings that can occur within responses to design failure. Specifically, elementary engineering curricular materials must create the context to support the range of positions taken up in response to design failure. This includes explicit modeling of discursive actions surrounding design failure, multiple opportunities for students to experience and respond to design failure with time to improve beyond the design–build–test model, and support for teachers to address the range of students’ responses to design failures knowledgeably and flexibly.



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