As an ADE-in-Residence at the San Francisco Exploratorium last spring, I was asked to adapt written materials on Tinkering and Playful Learning to an iTunes U course intended to introduce teachers to the concepts of tinkering, making, and the pedagogical principles that make these powerful learning experiences.

Going back to a science museum was a nice treat for me because I started my career in the Education Department at the Museum of Science, in Boston. The idea of learning through tinkering was first introduced to me through the work of Seymour Papert, when I was a graduate student taking a course at the MIT Media Lab. I was fortunate to spend some time working with Mitch Resnick and other students in the Lifelong Kindergarten group and I was pleasantly surprised to find so much that was familiar to me from the beginning of my career teaching hands-on science courses at the Museum of Science. I learned to teach by encouraging students to explore and discover, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was embracing constructivist philosophy, and later, constructionism, as I encouraged kids to make their own artifacts and engage in discussions with others about their artifacts.

The Tinkering course materials were developed by Mike Petrich and Karen Wilkinson, and were developed along with their book The Art of Tinkering. The book provides a hands-on look at the stories and artifacts that many different “makers” produced in the Tinkering Studio in the San Francisco Exploratorium. The challenge was in adapting the book materials from a fairly linear, author-directed experience to a self-directed, interactive experience in which learners could potentially explore the course modules out of order. In essence, our hope was that the Tinkering iTunesU course would present to learners an opportunity to play, build, and construct in a truly hands-on and engaging way.

There are many opportunities for educational leadership as schools are realizing that a makerspace needs to be more than just the place where they set up the 3D printer. Increasingly, we are trying to build engagement in learners by giving them a sense of agency over their own learning. We want our learners to be motivated to do their best work not because of extrinsic rewards, but out of a natural curiosity and sense of wonder. As more and more of our students have access to MacBooks, iPads, and other devices, we need to find ways to empower our teachers to see these devices as mobile makerspaces: devices that allow kids to take anything they can dream of, and make it real.

© Douglas Kiang 2020