I’ve been working at a K-3 school to introduce tinkering as an extension of the learning commons. One of the greatest challenges for teachers of children, even at this age, is meaningful assessment. But how do we assess tinkering? In Design, Make, Play: Growing the Next Generation of Stem Innovators, a chapter of the book is devoted to this. Entitled, “It Looks Like Fun, But Are They Learning?” the authors identify four qualities of tinkering as evidence of learning. These include:
“Engagement: active participation
Intentionality: Purposeful and evolving pursuit of an idea or plan
Innovation: New tinkering strategies that emerge through growing understanding of materials, tools, phenomena
Solidarity: Sharing, supporting, and pursuing shared purposes with other learners in the Tinkering Studio, or with the artifacts they have left behind” (Petrich, Wilkinson, & Bevan, 2013, p. 53-54).
We recently designed a tinkering opportunity with Grade 2 students around magnets. For the first few sessions, we allowed the children to simply play. We photographed, videoed, and discussed important ideas with children. Next, we asked the children to create a toy or game, using magnets.
To assess the students’ knowledge of the scientific concepts surrounding magnets, we created a performance assessment. This is where it got interesting. Even with all the tinkering, there were students who did not meet the scientific outcomes for grade two.
For example, one student, when shown a group of items, and asked to predict which would attract to the magnet as part of a performance assessment, had great difficulty identifying the items that might do that. However, this same student, in creating the magnet game, showed Petrich, Wilkinson, & Bevan’s qualities in spades.
This leads me to think that as teachers, we need to tinker with our project design.
Some questions I have been thinking about are: Should we involve more direct teaching as part of the project design? How can we support student learning of scientific outcomes within the context of tinkering? How will we record and manage evidence of the four qualities of tinkering?
Patrick, M., Wilkinson, K., & Bevan, B. (2013). It looks like fun, but are they learning? In M. Honey & D. E. Kantor, (Eds.), Design, make, play: Growing the next generation of STEM innovators (pp. 163-181). New York, NY: Routledge.