Tinkering Fundamentals: Week 1 Reflections

Tinkering Fundamentals: Week 1 | In Week 1 of the Tinkering Fundamentals MOOC, I take a look at what the course will entail and talk about my takeaways from the readings.

Tinkering Fundamentals: Week 1


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

Last summer, I heard about the Tinkering Fundamentals MOOC from my friend Colleen Graves, but the timing just didn’t work out for me.  I signed up with them to be notified of the next course offering, and it just started up on July 22.  Even though I started my school’s Makerspace back in January 2014, I often don’t end up having time to really tinker myself or explore new projects.  I’m excited to take the next six weeks to delve into topics that I’ve only scratched the surface of, like sewn circuits, paper circuits and scribbling machines.  Each week of the course, I’ll be posting things I’ve learned, links to resources and reflections on that week’s activities.  It’s sure to be a lot of fun 🙂

Check out this excerpt from the Tinkering Fundamentals course description:

In this course, we won’t just show you how we develop tinkering activities; we’ll also delve into why. We’ll focus on three important aspects: activity design around specific materials, facilitation strategies, and environmental organization. We’ll also share some guiding principles and learning indicators we’ve developed that can help you integrate tinkering into your elementary and middle-school science program. Whether you’re new to making or a seasoned tinkerer, we hope this course will help you take the next step!

~Mike Petrich, Karen WIlkinson, Luigi Anzivino

Thoughts on Readings

This week’s reading assignment was an excerpt from The Art of Tinkering(pgs 6-13) and chapter 2 from Invent To Learn.  I had already read both, but went back and re-read them again.  I was struck by just how impactful tinkering is on our students’ learning.  Both readings were chocked full of fantastic definitions of and reflection on what tinkering is.  Check these out:

“Tinkering is the essential art of composing and decomposing physical things to suit a variety of purposes – from practical to whimsical.” ~Dale Dougherty

Reflecting on how exploring and making as kids shaped them, Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich stated:

“We were given permission to get messy, find out for ourselves, and try out crazy ideas just for the sake of experience – and allowed to get lost in the woods and in our own imaginations.”

Invent To Learn is essential reading for anyone interested in Makerspaces and Maker Education.  In chapter two, Syvlia Martinez and Gary Stager cover the basics of constructionism and tinkering.  Here’s my favorite takeaways from this chapter:

“Tinkering is a uniquely human activity, combining social and creative forces that encompass play and learning.”

“Creating a learning environment that deliberately breaks this teacher-as-manager focus is difficult, yet necessary.  It requires a new teacher mindset and also requires giving students explicit permission to do things differently.”

Weekly Hangout

This week’s Tinkering Fundamentals Hangout focused on creative reuse and scavenging.  There were so many great ideas discussed, so make sure you check out the video below.  So many educators that I talk to lament that they have no budget to start a Makerspace, but this week’s Hangout looks at creative ways to source materials that can cost little to no money.

One idea that I’m definitely implementing when I get back is a donation bin for clean recyclables.  They show an example of one that lists all the types of supplies accepted (plastic bottles, strawberry baskets, egg cartons, etc).  This is placed on front of a donation bin where community members can bring items.  An important aspect of a donation bin is also to make sure you have a place to store supplies, and I’ve got lots of storage bins in our Maker Room.  This can double as an excellent advocacy tool for a Makerspace and a great way to get supplies.

Weekly Activities

This week’s Tinkering Fundamentals discussion activity was to talk about your favorite tool.  It’s so fun to see all the variety of tools that everyone loves – some are kitchen tools, some construction, some crafting.  I kind of cheated with my response: everything in my sewing corner.

My favorite tool: My sewing corner

Here’s what I wrote about it on the discussion board:

I realize that I’m totally cheating here, but one thing I love about my sewing corner is how all the tools and materials are organized to be right at my fingertips.  I’ve been sewing since I was a teenager and it remains one of my favorite ways to make things.  That sewing machine in particular is probably my favorite tool, because it belonged to my grandmother.  Everytime I make something with it, I think of her 🙂

I can already tell that I’m going to get a ton of great ideas from this course.  Let the tinkering begin!

What is your definition of tinkering?  Share in the comments, and let’s get the conversation going


10 thoughts on “Tinkering Fundamentals: Week 1 Reflections”

  1. Hi Diana,
    Thanks for sharing all your Makerspacr learning in this MOOC. I just purchased Invent to Learn and it will be a book study option for the librarians I lead in my school district. I’m confident this book will deepen their Makerspace understanding.

  2. I had to laugh when I saw your post in my inbox this morning…I am taking the same MOOC and am trying to keep track of potential project ideas – successes and failures. Although I do not run a makerspace, I am a librarian by professional training…and, a Floridan to boot (just north of Gainesville)! I host a few weeks of summer camps that focus on coding and robotics. I find that I completely agree with the practice of tinkering in Invent to Learn, but having had students in camp this past week, I’m having a hard time keeping some of them engaged for long periods of time ( and yet, some of them are so intrigued it’s hard to get them to stop). I can keep them engaged for a couple of hours – yes, but diving deeply into a project? For many of them, this was a challenge. It was all too easy to give up and get distracted when there was no obvious answer. Guided questions and personal choice “challenge” projects were not that helpful. It was as if something had turned off and they were done. Everything worked well as long as they weren’t “bored,” but after the novelty of an item (Makey Makey) wore off 30 minutes later…they were looking around for something to entertain them. So, I’m curious to hear if you’ve had any experiences with all day projects and how to keep your middle school students engaged and off their phones. 🙂

    In case you want to follow along: http://artisaneducation.com/blog/

    • Most of the projects I’ve done with students have been after school projects that lasted an hour or two – sustaining their attention all day seems like it could be really hard. Rather than trying to get them to focus on the same thing all day, it might be better to break it up into chunks – having one project in the morning and a different one in the afternoon. Also, talk to the students and find out what their interests and passions are – I’ve been amazed at how focused teenagers can be if you connect their project with their passion.

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