Tinkering and creativity

In my Tinkering talk at ISTE (slides coming soon!), I shared the French word for tinkering which is “bricolage”. It’s a great word because it doesn’t just mean tinkering, it also carries a connotation of playfulness, art, and using found objects. Those French certainly have a way with words!

I especially like how Sherry Turkle, the famous educational researcher explained bricolage. “The bricoleur resembles the painter who stands back between brushstrokes, looks at the canvas, and only after this contemplation, decides what to do next.”

This week, Newsweek magazine gives us, The Creativity Crisis. “For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong—and how we can fix it.” This article tackles the contradiction between America’s “standards-obsessed schools,” what we know about how children learn, and businesses who say that creativity is the number one attribute they need in new employees.

This perception of a different kind of problem solving, not the one taught in school with rigid steps and “right answers” – but one of playful invention, with room for serendipity, and respect for reflection seems to me to be at the heart of creativity. Because creativity is only meaningful in the act of CREATION – it’s not a feeling, or a mindset, or an outcome. But it CAN be taught, contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s not an inborn talent that you are either born with or not.

It’s about playful invention, and I believe that the notion of bricolage captures that perfectly, and is especially appropriate when talking about children.


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