Tinkering School

Once a year at the TED conference, invited speakers from all fields and backgrounds gather to give short talks about their subjects of interest. The conference website holds a treasure trove of brilliant, moving examples of storytelling about things that matter.

In this 4 minute video, Gever Tulley talks about his Tinkering School. This is a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, especially in regards to technology. My post a few months ago, Technology Literacy and Sustained Tinkering Time was about how looking at technology through the lens of tinkering makes more sense than approaching it through checklists and skill acquisition charts.

But I think this TED talk is nice because it shows kids doing things, and he talks about what is necessary to facilitate this kind of learning — time, materials, and openness to the serendipity of both success and failure. Time is such a key element. Time to think, time to change your mind, and time to work through frustration.

In the comment page for the video, there is a a lively discussion of how computers fit into this world of “stuff” for kids to mess around with. Some people look at computers (and video games) as taking children out of the “real world” of making things with hammers and nails, but I know that computers are not in opposition to children tinkering. Children, especially with open-ended, creative software tools can flow seamlessly between creating virtual and real things that have meaning to them.

This fits in perfectly with my work next week at the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. I’m looking forward to 4 days of tinkering with all the cool materials and software we bring in. According to Gary Stager, who leads the institute, teachers often see student frustration as a failure, and want to “help” students through it as quickly as possible. He says that teachers simply need to fine tune their reactions to differentiate between “mouth up” and “mouth down” frustration. No one wants to just leave a student stuck forever in an endless loop of problems. But to rescue them too soon means they never develop the problem solving skills they need. At CMK, the teachers learn that lesson by going through it themselves, tackling complex projects that have natural cycles of success, frustration, and more success.

Here’s a video from CMK last year, made during the event by one of the participants, that shows some of this in action.

By the way, there are a few places left, so sign up and come on down. What better way to spend a week than going to technology tinkering school!


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