What is Tinkering & Making
To “tinker” is to make small changes in something, often to repair or improve it. In the context of learning, tinkering is part of a hands-on, trial and error-based process that rewards persistence, resourcefulness, and self-sufficiency. “Making” is part of the DIY culture and emphasizes learning through doing, often in a social environment. It encompasses a very wide spectrum of activities from traditional hobbies and crafts to robotics and 3-D Printing. Making activities are often peer-based and motivated by creativity, fun, and self-fulfillment. Tinkering and making develops the capacity for innovative problem solving by engaging students in hands on and creative skill building projects that incorporate science, technology, engineering, art, and math subjects.
Tinkering & Making in the Classroom
In the classroom, tinkering and making projects are a platform for teachers to develop environments where learning by doing is the norm. With the appropriate activity and project structures to help support the experience, tinkering and making provide an explicit way for the classroom to embrace a variety of skills and mindsets that not only engage students but also prepare them for life and work in the real world. From precision to persistence to hard science and engineering skills, tinkering and making experiences help to develop the content knowledge, competencies, and mindsets that are at the heart of rich, dynamic student learning.
Integrating tinkering and making into instruction can also create a differentiated environment that nurtures diverse learning styles. For example, requiring students to work in teams not only reinforces the value of group work but also allows the teacher to differentiate individual tasks that align to individual students’ abilities. For a project that involves circuitry, those students with basic circuitry knowledge can be tasked with using sensors to achieve a desired result; other students with less experience with basic circuits might be better suited to develop other aspects of the project, such as design or written documentation. This type of learning environment provides multiple pathways for participation and for success.
Learning environments that are rich in tinkering and making require students to develop the dispositions of designers and innovators and build in them the confidence and competence to choose the right tools for the problem.
Tinkering & Making Fosters Curiosity and Deep Engagement
During the tinkering phase of a project, students are provided an open-ended opportunity to conduct research, develop empathy, create questions, wonder, and use their own motivation to engage in the learning experience. This helps to ensure that students are more invested in a sustained engagement in the project.
While student interest is the key driver for maintaining deep engagement, tinkering also fosters an ongoing working partnership between the teacher and the student in an array of settings. For example, each can have a role in identifying interests, doing research, developing concepts and testing new ideas.
Tinkering & Making Develops Grit, Flexible Thinking, Perspective-taking, and Perseverance
In order for students to fearlessly grapple with solutions to unknown problems, they need to be prepared to encounter and use unfamiliar tools including new technologies. Using something new for the first few times can be challenging for anyone but tinkering and making promotes thinking of failure as a start and not an end,. Learning how to use new making tools develops grit and perseverance; students must be flexible and resourceful when instructions are not available or do not exactly match the problem that is being addressed.
Tinkering & Making Builds a Growth Mindset
The research of Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, on achievement and success addresses the concept of a “growth mindset.” In a growth mindset an individual believes that achievement results from dedication and hard work rather than innate intelligence or talent. Because tinkering and making breaks down the learning goals into components, students have many chances to build on skills as they acquire and refine them.
The Tinker.Make.Innovate. Process
Tinker.Make.Innovate. is a design system that was developed by The Exploratory to provide teachers with concrete and open-ended applications of critical thinking so that students can build the skills they need to identify problems and propose and devise innovative solutions to them. It is flexible enough to integrate it with classroom subjects, but can also be used as a stand-alone curriculum for developing hard and soft problem solving skills.
Tinker.Make.Innovate. has been used in schools throughout Los Angeles inside and out of school. Tinker.Make. Innovate. is a three-step process with each phase providing the building blocks for students to problem-solve and create innovative solutions. The Tinker phase is designed to develop engagement. The Make phase is designed to teach skills and knowledge. The Innovate phase is designed to provide opportunities for students to demonstrate their proficiency of the Make phase concepts, the appropriate use of tools, and the skills that are required to find creative solutions to problems.
Tinker Phase: Developing engagement
At the heart of the Tinker phase is the provocation. Provocations provide a way to design and structure the project to inspire creativity and offer teachers the flexibility to design assessment tools that support a variety of classroom goals.
Teachers begin by deciding on a topic and then develop the provocation question that is designed to get students thinking about how they relate to the topic. Students then draw on their own experiences and knowledge about the topic and conduct research that fosters a deeper understanding of their point of view about the topic. To encourage more active investigation and build more interest, this phase might also include idea-generating games or activities.
When developing an activity for the Tinker phase, think about the research that is required to develop empathy for the subject or the design. Think about PLAY. What materials could students play with that would help them to be successful in using the materials and tools you have identified as goals?
Make Phase: Building skills and knowledge
In the Make phase, students engage in activities that are designed to develop the necessary skills and knowledge that they will use to prepare them to put their ideas to work in the Innovate phase. Teachers match the make activities and the skills they reinforce with requirements of the overall classroom lesson. Teachers who do not have all of the necessary expertise to design and implement each make activity, often rely on outside experts from science and engineering fields to fill in the gaps.
Once the provocation is determined, work backwards to determine what skills and knowledge students will need to engage with it successfully.
Innovate Phase: Demonstrating skills and knowledge through a problem solving project
The Innovate phase is where it all comes together. In this phase, the students utilize the design thinking process to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Now that the students have had some time to think about the first round of brainstorming in the tinkering phase, they are asked to create a solution to the problem they identified.
Students are introduced to the idea that no idea is a bad idea. All ideas have a purpose. Using post-its, they are encouraged to come up with as many ideas as possible in a short period of time. Putting a time limit on the brainstorming sessions reduces anxiety.
Students take the different ideas from the brainstorming phase and sort them into thematic groups. This exercise helps organize design groups around common interests.
The term “plussing” is borrowed from Pixar, the computer animation company responsible for movies like “Cars “and “Toy Story.” They use plussing sessions to present each phase of their production including story ideas, scripts, storyboards and more to peers. In these meetings, they receive feedback that informs their next iterations. In the Tinker.Make.Innovate. plussing sessions, students share their ideas, process, and challenges, then ask peers to add their ideas. It is a closing meeting where students can share what they learned, enable other students to learn from their process, and support each other in problem solving. The plussing sessions invite positive additions to the presentation rather than open feedback, which might only result in negative comments.
Ideate and Prototype
Armed with suggestions from the plussing meeting, students make revisions to their ideas and start building the prototype. To encourage accountability, students should be encouraged to decide among themselves the different roles group members will have. Each day, additional plussing meetings can help the students as well as the teacher to know how best to support the students.
These are presentations to the public, including mentors and experts, that involve more than just speaking to a crowd. They are situated in a real world situation, whether it is an exhibit of the project in museum or a showcase of the project at a local community event. This allows for students to get public feedback beyond classmates and family. Consider inviting faculty from the local art school or university business or engineering professors and students in addition to the parents. If the product is for small children, invite local elementary school students. Have some students video tape the presentations, if appropriate, so that it can be used for discussion in the meeting after the presentations.
Tinkering, Making and the Standards
The Tinker.Make.Innovate. process provides many opportunities to connect with the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. The Tinker.Make.Innovate. process addresses real world situations, encourages collaboration, applies content to problem solving and context, and uses technology, media and other tools to communicate — all these things are at the center of the Common Core and NGSS standards. In each of the Make activities, a science concept and technology and math skills are embedded.
Common Core Language Arts
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Students engaged in tinkering and making often must ask for or give assistance to their peers. This may include simple tasks such as holding an object steady so that a classmate can attach something to it or complex exchanges of skills and ideas required for innovation. The Tinker.Make.Innovate. process also involves a lot of brainstorming and group projects that require working through different ideas for the mutual benefit of the project. The plussing sessions at the end of each meeting encourage active conversation and allow for practice in effectively expressing their ideas.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Students who tinker and make learn to see valuable information in every step of the making process. They notice when and how a technique, tool, or material has not met the needs of their design and evaluate what changes to their design must be made. Students take note of the successes and missteps of their peers’ work and adjust their own plans accordingly. During the plussing sessions they receive ideas from peers and evaluate which ideas are most useful to incorporate into their projects.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
The Tinker.Make.Innovate. process is grounded in students developing questions and subjects to research. Short research tasks are used in situations where a technique, or process needs information. Sustained research is the basis of the Tinker phase; the information gathered informs all of the Innovate phase.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
Once students have a foundation in a few basic making skills and are challenged to design something to address a problem or need, they typically have to research new techniques and skills in order to fully implement their design. Information sources for this research include books and internet resources; the accuracy and utility of those resources must be judged by the students by either integration into their project and having it work or not work, or through evaluation.
Common Core Math
CCSS.Math.Practice.MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
Tinker.Make.Innovate. is a process that not only provides students with the mindsets necessary to identify problems and possible solutions but also the skill sets they will ultimately need to manifest those solutions into reality. Students gradually develop grit and perseverance through the making process, where they must overcome the frustration that comes naturally in an environment where they are allowed to fail and make mistakes.
CCSS.Math.Practice.MP2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
In order to successfully innovate, students must be able to understand the properties of materials, tools, and techniques on a physical, hands-on basis as well as on an abstract, conceptual level. Students must be able to plan the logistics of their designs, from the amount of materials they will need to a realistic estimate of the time and effort their design will require to complete.
CCSS.Math.Practice.MP3 Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
A key component of Tinker.Make.Innovate. is the “plussing session,” where students are able to add to each other’s ideas constructively while avoiding negative, unproductive comments. In order to successfully participate in a plussing session, students must not only be able to make a valid and logical argument, but also do so in a way that appropriately critiques as well as builds up the ideas of others.
CCSS.Math.Practice.MP5 Use appropriate tools strategically.
At every stage of the Tinker.Make.Innovate. process students must learn the basic skills needed to use a diverse set of tools and materials, the strengths and weakness of those tools and materials, and what situations a tool or technique is most effective and appropriate for. For example, this may include knowing when it is best to use tape instead of glue, and furthermore, when to use masking tape instead of duct tape or copper foil tape.
CCSS.Math.Practice.MP6 Attend to precision.
According to the Common Core Math Practices standard, “Mathematically proficient students try to communicate precisely to others. They try to use clear definitions in discussion with others and in their own reasoning.” Throughout the Tinker.Make.Innovate. process, students learn to participate in “plussing sessions,” in which they refine their conceptual communication skills to become concise, valid, and constructive. Throughout the making process students find themselves in situations and contexts where precision is key to a successful design, for example when measuring the dimensions of wood while taking into account the kerf of their cutting tool or when writing an Arduino sketch to control a servo which requires millisecond precision.
Teachers can identify the key science concepts outlined in the NGSS that best meets their lesson plans and develop tinkering and making activities to include those standards.
HS-ETS1-1 Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
Provocations and challenges provided to students are typically designed to inspire them to innovate around challenges of real global concern. Skills needed to use tools and materials allow students to assess quantitative criteria such as time and resources. Peer feedback, especially through plussing sessions, give students enough perspective to examine qualitative criteria such as societal and cultural needs and wants.
HS-ETS1-2 Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
Tinkering and making are closely tied to engineering. Students can use their making skills in response to a provocation to build a solution to a real-world problem. They will also have to plan manageable, realistic logistics for their design. Each make project is designed to develop proficiency in a small component of the larger project and offers opportunities to practice engineering and problem solving.
HS-ETS1-3 Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, and reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
When students respond to a provocation that represents a real-world problem, they must be able to follow through on their design and plan the logistics of how they will make their design a reality. Students learn to consider a multitude of constraints and limitations, including the cost, safety, reliability, and build-time of their design as well as the actual impact the final product.
Project Example: Industrial Shark Tank
Industrial Shark Tank
School | The Exploratory
Location | Los Angeles
Total Time | 20 hours
Subjects | Science, History, Business
Grade Level | 8-12
Number of Participants | 26
Students designed and created prototypes for future inventions that illustrated the key components in the Industrial Revolution. Key concepts included the process of invention and the impact of disruptive innovation on society and the economy.
What thing that doesn’t exist yet would change the world for the better if it did exist?
Students identified what objects in the classroom had the most impact on their day-to-day lives, such as lights, chairs, pens, etc. As a group, they researched and brainstormed what technologies developed during the Industrial Revolution were necessary to have those objects exist as they do today. Students were then challenged to make a similar list of typical items found at home (i.e. computers, speakers, blenders) and explain what advances from the Industrial Revolution made those objects possible (AC current, interchangeable parts, assembly lines, etc).
In this phase, students participate in a series of make skill-building activities.
- Edison’s light bulb: Students were provided with lantern batteries, alligator clips, glass jars, and filament materials such as pencil lead, iron wire, and copper wire. They were challenged to create a “light bulb” that was both bright and long lasting. After students experiment with different iterations, they were invited to share what they observed and how they could improve their light bulbs. Students were then provided with carbon dioxide gas produced by a vinegar and baking soda reaction and repeated their set-ups and observed any changes.
- Wright Brothers flying machines: Students were provided with wooden dowel rods, cloth, and duct tape and challenged to create something that could fly. Flight distances were recorded. Iterations on the making process provided new materials including bass wood, construction paper, and masking tape, allowing students to make improvements to their original flying machines or to start over. The new flight distances were recorded, and students were then given balsa wood, paper, balloons, rubber band powered propellers, hot glue guns, and allowed access to wood working tools and a 3d printer. The students recorded their final flying machine flight distances and discussed which of their designs flew the furthest and why. They were then asked why the Wright Brothers were the first people to achieve sustained flight even though people had had the idea many times throughout human history.
- Watt’s steam machine: Students were given access to a 3D printer, modeling clay, cardboard, hot glue, stiff wire, string, marbles, and other materials. They were shown a demonstration of how a heated pressure cooker behaves when the pressure regulator is removed, and were challenged to create a Rube Goldberg machine beginning with the blast of steam and ending at making an LED turn on. They were given lower limits on how many different tools and materials they had to use, along with a minimum number of steps for their machines to ensure a comprehensive and self-directed experience.
Students were given the provocation “What thing that doesn’t exist yet would change the world for the better if it did exist?” Students brainstormed inventions for the provocation along with a list of all the technological/scientific advances necessary for the invention to exist and be commercially viable. They were then given access to a variety of materials that they had been exposed to in the earlier activities to create “illustrative” (not necessarily “working”) prototypes. Illustrative prototypes can be sketches or 3D mockups made from wood, cardboard or other materials; they do not necessarily have moving parts. Illustrative prototypes can also be mockups created in a computer simulating the end product.
Students were then given questions such as “What are the risks and challenges of making this invention?,” “What is the market for this invention?,” and “What is the scope and reach of this invention?.” They were challenged to create a pitch for a potential investor. Examples of the inventions the students pitched include a teleporter, contact lens computers, and a health “scanner”.