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Thinking, and Tinkering, and Tech-ing, Oh My!

In speaking to other professionals in education, I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of opinions about what students should be doing in the makerspace.  Some will say to give the students the freedom to tinker.  Others will say you should be focused on design thinking projects.  And others will say that the focus should be on coding and computing. I say, do it all.


Tinkering is unstructured time wherein students are encouraged to explore and use the tools and materials available to them in the space.  I decided to allow students Tinker Time when I first opened the makerspace to them for two reasons:  1) I wanted to see what tools and materials they were most drawn to, and 2) I really had no idea where to begin, so why not let the students drive the learning?

I am happy with my decision because I really learned a lot about my students.  First, with all of the expensive kits and tools that were available to them, I found that most of the girls were drawn to the consumable materials that could be bought at the dollar store, i.e. pipecleaners, cardboard, pom pom balls, googly eyes, paper, paint, and so on.  The boys, on the other hand, were drawn to the construction kits, i.e. Legos and K’nex.

Second, I noticed that while most students got right to work creating, one or two students in each cohort struggled with beginning any project at all.  This is where our library of how-to books came in handy on subsequent days.  I learned to lay those out and encourage students to peruse them if they struggled with ideating.


Finally, I learned that Tinker Time can only hold the students attention for so long before they get antsy for some structure.  After about 5 days of Tinker Time, I started to see signs that students weren’t sure how to proceed when they finished their projects, and so I decided it was time to teach them something new.


My goal is to make students producers of technology, not simply consumers.  And so, I need to teach them how to use computers and mobile devices as tools for creation, not just a platform for video games.  I plan to teach them how to code in order to create their own games, apps, art, robots, and machines.  But to begin, I decided to stick with how they can use technology to communicate.  Seesaw is an online learning journal where students can record, write, and draw to communicate reflections on their learning to their teachers, peers, and families.  The design is very intuitive for students, and so it takes just a few minutes to teach 3rd and 4th graders how to use, especially given that there is a QR code to sign in.  Once I taught students how to use Seesaw, I allowed them time to showcase their projects, which they love doing.  Now that students know that they will be sharing their work with an audience, I’ve found they are much more thoughtful and precise about their creations.

A screenshot of the Seesaw Learning Journal

 Design Thinking

Once students were comfortable with the materials, tools, and some technology, I decided it was time to give them some purpose for their use.  And so, I gave them a very open ended project: in a small group, design a game or toy.  There were no parameters for this activity, no rubric.  I just said “Design a game or toy.” After I introduced the project, however, I did give them some structure.  I quickly walked them through the design thinking process (although I didn’t spend too much time on it, as we will revisit it time and again).  I gave them time to brainstorm (about 5 minutes).  I allowed them to switch groups if they weren’t into the projects their group decided on.  And then I said, “Go.”








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