Friday, July 24, 2015

My Tinkering Journal: Week One

This week the Tinkering Fundamentals online course began. The course is meant to help educators develop a practice of tinkering and making in ourselves and ultimately in our classrooms. The first week we received an introduction to the idea of tinkering. Here are my takeaways and reflection from week one.

For our first activity we had to watch a short video that included snippets of children tinkering with a variety of tools, materials, and objects including motors, lights, batteries, switches, MakeyMakeys, sew-able circuits and more. We had to come up with some observations, and here is what I noticed:
  • Students seemed compelled to touch and grab. One might find this frustrating or distracting but I see the need to touch as being a part of the learning process. Picking up and handling an object allows us to explore it in more depth, to further learn how it works.
  • A sense of accomplishment creates happiness. The children have huge smiles across their faces when they realize they accomplished something new (whether it was adding a switch, making lights blink, or making a motor with markers dance across the table).
  • The instructors aren’t “teaching” students how to do something. They are encouraging them to try something new. They say things like “Try an add a switch," or “What if you include this or that to make them all light up.” They guided, prodded, encouraged, and posed questions.
  • Show them you trust them and they will deliver. Young students in the video were using a variety of tools including a soldering iron! If you show a child the proper use of a tool, you shouldn't have to worry about injuries or dangers. (I elaborate more on this personally below)
  • One of the activities was "Toy Take Apart" and this is a great introductory activity to get students thinking about how things work. I plan to do this activity with my students next year. (more on that below)
  • FAIL = First attempt in learning. Unfortunately, the video didn't highlight any moments of failure or mistakes, but I know this is an important part of the process.
We also had to read a few excerpts from The Art of Tinkering by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich and chapter 2 from Invent to Learn by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager. Here are some quotes and notes I pulled from these sources:

  • Foreword by Dale Dougherty (Make Magazine):
    • “Tinkering is the essential art of composing and decomposing physical things to suit a variety of purposes - from practical to whimsical.”
    • “Making is something that anyone can do, but we should understand it as something we need to do.”
  • Introduction by Leah Buechley:
    • “People revel in taking things apart, putting them back together, and making new things.”
    • “...the importance of two crucial practices that are easy to overlook: retaining a sense of play in what you do and leaving room for quiet and (sometimes slow) reflection in the making process.”
    • “All great tinkerers are great copiers.”
  • A Few Words from Karen & Mike:
    • "What is tinkering? It’s thinking with your hands and learning through doing.”
Invent to Learn chapter 2
  • Constructivism - learning by combining experiences with what you already know (constructing new knowledge). Includes talking and working with others.
  • Constructionism - learning becomes most effective when the learner is engaged in a personally meaningful activity that makes the learning real and shareable. However, the power of “constructing” something comes from within (a question or an impulse), and not imposed from someone else. Seek to liberate learners from their dependency on being taught.
  • “Making something is a powerful, personal expression of intellect.”
  • “The IKEA Effect” - people value their own creations more (even if flawed) than those created by experts.
  • “They understand that when you do something yourself, the thing that changes most profoundly is you.” ~ Mark Frauenfelder
My Favorite Tool

Our activity for this week was to choose our favorite tool as a tinkerer. My thoughts immediately shot back to my childhood and what I loved to do the most.
My favorite tool. A pair of scissors.
As a child growing up my favorite activity was building cardboard box forts and my trusty pair of scissors became my most valuable tool. I could do simple cutting or I could open it up and use it as a knife. It was very versatile. I became very skilled at using the scissors to build my forts. But what I appreciate the most now is the fact that my parents trusted me enough to use scissors on my own so freely. I had my fair share of pokes and cuts, but these became life lessons as I imagined, designed, built, and ultimately played day and night with my cardboard box forts.

Week One Reflection: What does tinkering look like to you?

Our reflection question for this week had us pondering what tinkering might look like to us. In the classroom, tinkering might look like play to me. It’s organized chaos among the students. Some are excited, loud, and boisterous. Others are quiet, pondering, questioning themselves, curious. And the rest might be angry, frustrated, tired of failing but pushing forward, not giving up. I envision a room full of students, scattered about on the floor, on desks, on tables, under tables, in corners. And I also hope that every student is working at their own pace. They are all not working together to accomplish the same task because they are learning at their own pace. They may be working with partners or in small groups, but their ideas are their own and their goal is to create something for themselves.

The Tinkering Fundamentals Kit (and then some).

Tinkering Journal

Through the course, we can also keep a journal and we'll be prompted throughout the weeks to respond to a series of questions to help us reflect and document our experiences along the way. This week we're asked to consider our goals and expectations, and the role that making and tinkering plays in our lives.

The main reason I decided to take this course is because I'll be teaching a course this coming school year called "Make It 101". It's an elective for middle and high school students that want an introduction to making in my school's Upper School FabLab. Although I have a deep interest and love for making, this will be my first real opportunity to teach the fundamentals of making and tinkering to students. I'm very excited about the class, but also very nervous because, honestly, I don't have a lot of experience with the machines and the tools. But, when I think about making and tinkering, I believe that's part of the purpose. Because as their "teacher", I will also serve a a student along side them. Learning and leading, but also giving them the opportunity to lead as well.

Share with me: What is your favorite tool? What does tinkering look like to you?

See you next week!

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