Tinkering Fundamentals: Week 2
Tinkering Fundamentals is a massive open online course (MOOC) put on by San Francisco’s Exploratorium museum every summer. I’m going to be chronicling my six weeks with this course here so you can learn along with me. See Week One reflections here
Thoughts on Readings
This week’s readings focused on the beautiful art of Shih Chieh Huang. He creates amazing living sculptures out of circuits, plastic and found objects. Check out this TED talk to learn more about his work. It made me think about how I want to expose my students more to the intersection of art and STEM. Making flows so perfectly into creative, artistic expression, and I want my students to see the beauty that can come from tinkering and asking questions.
This week’s Tinkering Fundamentals hangout focused on Tinkering Journals. There were a lot of great ideas about visual thinking and the role reflection plays in the learning process. The facilitators emphasized finding a journaling style that works best for you (and letting your students find theirs). This could be a physical journal, a digital log or a combination. One great prompt they suggested was having students write “I used to think ____ but now I think ___” Even just having students write reflections at the end of an activity on post-it notes can work. This was something that was lacking in my makerspace last year. I’m definitely going to be thinking actively about how to bring this reflection piece in. They also recommended several books that are now on my never-ending to-read list:
- Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners
- Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in All Schools
- Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor
- How to Make Books: Fold, Cut & Stitch Your Way to a One-of-a-Kind Book
The Tinkering Fundamentals activity this week was to build DIY circuit blocks with wood. I’ve used littleBits and Snap Circuits quite a bit with my students, so I have to admit, I scoffed at the idea of creating “crude” circuit blocks when it first came up. But I still decided to go for it.
Turns out, I was woefully unprepared. Since I’m not at work right now (summer off for teachers) I didn’t have access to a hot glue gun, circular saw, or soldering iron. Several shopping trips later, I finally had what I needed (minus the circular saw, which I would definitely have next time, as hand-sawing sucks).
I only ended up making four circuit blocks and it literally took me hours to get them done. My soldering was sloppy, there was bits of hot glue all over, the edges of the boards weren’t perfectly sanded. But when I got that LED to light up, that switch to work, and that buzzer to go off, I was jumping up and down excited. And it got me thinking again about how important going through the process is, what a deep satisfaction there is in making something from scratch, even if it is “just” an overheated battery pack that lights up a bulb.
Why make circuit blocks?
And while I will still always turn to littleBits when I want fast prototyping of an idea, there is a great value in going through this exercise of creating a circuit from scratch. I think this exercise could be an extremely valuable one for my students. Not only could I potentially let them take their circuits home, but it will give them a greater appreciation and wonder of the other tools that we use.
My students have scoffed at me before when I’ve gotten them started on new ideas. But when they power through it and try it anyway, they’re having fun in no time. I should do better to remember this myself when it comes to my own learning and growth.