Carolina’s Maker Class: Using Making To Help Children Learn

My UNC Spring 2018 class, “The maker movement and education,” is turning out to be a lot of fun! If you want to learn about how making stuff contributes to learning, you really have to make things yourself. So I’m guiding my students through a variety of making activities that have been influential in re-visioning schools as places where students create.

In Tuesday’s class, pairs of students created cardboard automata, in a making activity created by the San Francisco Exploratorium Tinkering Workshop, by its founders Mike Petrich and Karen Wilkinson. This cool activity captures the hands-on style of inquiry and creativity that the Exploratorium is famous for. And it brings together artistic creativity with the physics of movement and mechanics–an awesome example of STEAM education.

At the end of class, all of my students placed their creations outside the classroom door–check out this collective creation! I highly recommend this awesome book, that shows educators how to use these same activities in their classes: The Art of Tinkering.

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The Art of Tinkering

I’m reading a fascinating book about creativity called The Art of Tinkering, curated by the two co-directors of the San Francisco Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio. The book brings together creations and practices of artists and makers from all over the United States.

I love this list of “Tinkering Tenets” from the book–daily practices that help you create:

  • Revisit and iterate on your ideas
  • Prototype rapidly
  • Merge science, art & technology
  • Use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways
  • Create rather than consume
  • Express ideas via construction
  • Embrace your tools
  • Be comfortable not knowing
  • Go ahead, get stuck
  • Reinvent old technologies
  • Try a little “snarkasm” (joke around and be playful)
  • Balance autonomy with collaboration
  • Put yourself in messy and noisy situations
  • Take your work seriously without taking yourself seriously

These Tinkering Tenets are completely aligned with the advice that comes from creativity research, and the techniques I describe in my creativity advice book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity.

I first met the two co-authors of this book–Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich–when I was a Visiting Osher Fellow at the Exploratorium for one glorious month in the summer of 2009. I analyze their “cardboard automata” activity in a forthcoming scientific article in Teachers College Record titled “How to transform schools to foster creativity”.

Check out the final sentence of Mike and Karen’s “Author Acknowledgements” on page 223 (Mike and Karen are husband and wife, by the way): “Tinkering as a way of being has been the way we’ve operated since the day we met (well, maybe three months after we met, but that’s another story).” Please tell us the story!