Unleash creativity in your classroom by introducing tinkering and making!


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Developing computational thinking of learners is often associated with coding classes. There are other ways, however, of developing computational thinking and digital creativity without necessarily using computers, often integrating more curiosity and playfulness in the learning activity.

When using tinkering and making in the learning process we allow students to apply logical thinking through design, personalizing outputs, collaboration, reflection, etc. Tinkering and making bring a pattern of playfulness, which gives further incentive/courage to students to explore and improve different skills such as problem solving and see things from various perspectives, and perhaps even sometimes take risks, which they wouldn’t in any other situation. If you stand in a room where students are tinkering and making, you cannot help but observe an environment of creativity, excitement and engagement.

Tinkering and making focus on the idea of building a creative learning environment where students learn by doing:

Tinkering means being fully immersed in a hands-on activity of taking objects apart and assembling something completely new, improvising, trying, adapting, sometimes even failing, and starting all over again. In a way, tinkering can be seen as an endless playful exploration, which  fosters problem-solving skills, creativity, innovative thinking and resilience. Experimentation and discovery are at the heart of tinkering!

Making brings an extra element to tinkering by adding the technological aspect to the creative process, combining physical objects and technology (hardware and software). Makers learn through experimentation, by taking technology apart and trying to create something new. Arduino, MaKeyMaKey and Raspberry Pi facilitate physical computing and give students more tools for experimentation and invention.

In a nutshell: tinkering means using available materials and exploring ways to come up with something new; while when making, students already have an idea in mind. Regardless of this distinction, tinkering and making are ways for students to materialise ideas and to create something new while having fun. In tinkering and making, art and science are intertwined.

What can you actually do through tinkering and making? Have a look at this video from the Exploratorium in San Francisco, a space for learning through exploration for people of all ages:

Tinkering and making introduce a new way of learning in the classroom, which can be easily summarised in the following three actions: Think, Make, Improve (TMI). TMI is considered as a process of designing in the classroom, where students dive into a pure process of creation, where they give shape to their ideas and feelings to make something tangible.

‘Think’ is the initial stage, where students set out a problem that they want to tackle or an idea/goal they wish to achieve. This is the moment for reflection, brainstorming and preparation. This process may include also discussing ideas, gathering materials, sketching, planning, designing who to work with.

‘Make’ is the process, where students take action by playing, building, tinkering, programming, constructing and deconstructing, observing or exchanging with others.

‘Improve’ is the phase where students find satisfaction or dissatisfaction with what they have been doing. In the second case, they would look for ways to improve. Even if students feel satisfied with their work, there is always room for improvement. In this phase students analyse what they created in the previous phase by looking at it from different perspectives, discussing with others, playing with materials in order to find a way to improve it. The role of the teacher is to support students in this process of exploration and creation by always stimulating them to go one step further by improving their project or starting a new one.

Learning with the TMI design process puts a very important focus on errors as they are considered not as something that should be avoided, but as something important for the whole process of learning. For students, making errors means to explore new ways of problem solving and, at the same time, discover new paths for learning. Let your students be free to explore! Don’t give them ready solutions, just help them discover by asking questions and encouraging their curiosity. ‘Less Us More Them’ (LUMT) is the leading principle of a teacher within the tinkering space.

Article written by: Tomislava Recheva and Jessica Massini, European Schoolnet.

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