Thoughts on Tinkering


Bubbles (Flickr)  by Dominique Cappronnier under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs Generic Licence

As part of the move to a learning commons, we have set aside space on the mezzanine for tinkering. There is a big buzz in education circles about tinkering, and several resources we are using not only present practical ideas, but also explain why tinkering is important. They are:

Gabrielson, C. (2013). Tinkering. Sebastopol, CA: Maker Media.

Honey, M. & Kanter, E. (Eds.). (2013). Design, make, play: growing the next generation of STEM innovators. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Martinez, S. & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.

Kelly, R. (Ed.). (2012). Educating for creativity: A global conversation. Calgary, AB: Brush Education, Inc.

The biggest shift has to be in the way we think about teaching and learning. It is a move away from curriculum driven, product focused, teacher orchestrated work. The 20th century factory model of education does not sync with current thoughts on tinkering.

“In most school activities, structure is valued over serendipity. Understanding is often “designed” by an adult committee prior to even meeting the students. Play is something you do at recess, not in class . . .The structure makes it easier for one teacher to teach a one-size-fits-all curriculum to large numbers of same age students. None of the constraints of school are for the benefit of learning – they create a more manageable, homogeneous, efficient platform for teaching a predetermined bit of content” (Martinez & Stager, p. 36).

As Martinez and Stager state, tinkering helps create a “mindset for learning.”

“When we allow children to experiment, take risks, and play with their own ideas, we give them permission to trust themselves. They begin to see themselves as learners who have good ideas and can transform their own ideas into reality. When we acknowledge that there may be many right answers to a question, it gives children permission to feel safe while thinking and problem solving, not just when they answer correctly” (Martinez & Stager, p. 36).

It is one thing to set up a physical space for tinkering. But we must also decide how to facilitate learning by doing, so that students can apply their ideas and mindsets in future work. Martinez and Stager suggest tinkering needs to start with “a good prompt, motivating challenge, or thoughtful question” (p.61). Further, they state, “The richest learning often results from getting in over one’s head or when encountering unforeseen obstacles. Teachers do children no favor when they spell out one way to solve a problem” (p.62).

We would like to design tinkering time around problems to be solved that may or may not connect to curriculum – they could relate to interests that children express in their conversations with each other and with us. We need to keep the problems short, and specific, while allowing for creativity. I am starting to build a bank of problems for use in the tinkering space. Ideas include designing something that moves easily on a bumpy surface, designing a structure that holds one kilogram, designing a marble run so that two marbles, started in different places, end up at the same place at the same time.

Right now, our tinkering space as learning lab is a prototype. We, like the children will be trying, testing, failing, and trying again. Essentially, tinkering. We are hopeful that this will result in deep learning not only for our students, but for us, as educators.

About sandralbecker

An educator who is passionate about the creation of a school Learning Commons, which supports inquiry, critical thinking, and collaboration.
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2 Responses to Thoughts on Tinkering

  1. jennyf says:

    Sandra Thank you fo helping create an environment where we can take risks, learn together and PLAY.

  2. What a great staff to take risks and learn with . . .it has been an honour to work with you.

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