Onward: Thoughtful Organization of the Tinkering Lab

Included in the move from library to learning commons, is a tinkering lab, where students can test ideas they are questioning or researching, using physical objects.

The school already has a good selection of purchased tinkering materials including Lego, K’nex, Straws &  Connectors, Gear Sets, and Zoob, just for starters. The problem, as is often the case, is that in the past, specific kits were geared to specific grades and curriculum topics. Boxes of materials were labeled by grade, giving other staff the impression that they were off limits. As well, the materials were not well cared for by all staff and were often left so disorganized, they were often unusable. The result was that many teachers did not use the materials, and those that did often kept them in their classroom where they could

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Buckets of straws and connectors labeled Grade 3 building.

The staff, led by the learning commons committee, is taking a leap of faith by moving materials out of grade specific cupboards and boxes, and opening them up for all in the school to use. Lego and K’nex will no longer be organized in kits with specific directions to address specific learning outcomes at specific grades, but will be available for everyone to use as potential tools for solving problems. As Curt Gabrielson says, “The essence of teaching with tinkering is to get tools and materials into the hungry hands of your students” (2013, p.93). Letting go of control of materials, while remaining thoughtful about their use, will be part of the learning for teachers. Given a problem, students may wish to use several different kinds of tinkering materials to search out answers. They will now be able to do that.

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Lego will organized by size of pieces, not grade levels.

We are just beginning the process of organizing materials. Rachel Doorley suggests making it “child-friendly, by establishing self-serve zones where kids can access safe and engaging materials on their own” (2014, p.8).

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Clear bins house Lego and K’nex parts are easily accessed by children.

This is a work in progress that will take time, along with modifications, as we figure out the best way to encourage and invite students to learn by tinkering.

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Plastic boxes with handles to house tools can be carried by students to where they are needed.

Doorley, R. (2014). Tinkerlab: A hands-on guide for little inventors. Boston, MA: Roost Books.

Gabrielson, C. (2013). Tinkering: Kids learn by making stuff. Sebastopol, CA: MakerMedia.

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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 Onward: Thoughtful Organization of the Tinkering Lab

  1. Liz says:

    One of the most powerful shifts in our Learning Commons is the idea of letting go of grade specific materials. I watch and learn from you, Sandy!

    • Liz,
      I have been amazed how small shifts in the way we use materials and furniture amount to large shifts in thinking. I think it speaks volumes about how we have to be continually open to new ways of doing and being.

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