Time to tinker


What comes easy to you?

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When Seymore Papert tells his childhood story of his love for gears. He tells a story about a system of tangible objects that became obvious to him, though it would seem complex to others. Through play and love for the turning and interaction between the gears he gained a scaffold to learn other knowledge from. Papert, for example, mentions an experience where he understood multiplication and variables through his mental image of how gears worked.

The point here is not that every child would benefit from learning how gears work. The learning experience is very personal. His love for gears, physical objects he could manipulate, experiment with gained him a mental representation of the mechanics. 

What can we learn from this? 

I think that it is difficult in most classroom situations to see the gears of the individual pupil. Some kids are explicit about their special interest or excel in obvious ways. But many of us, might not even be aware of our own gears. I, for one, have trouble naming my own gear. Maybe it is because I am more of a generalist. I don´t know. I have always loved many different things, and will rather learn something new, than master what I am already able to do. Of course, that is not true in every aspect. As to teaching, tinkering and creating music I have used a lot of time, but I will not say that I have mastered it — yet.

I believe that we need to help our students discover their own gears, and help them channel it into their projects whenever possible. I also believe that it is a teachers task to help students develop new gears. Another task is being aware of the way you learn. If something is easy to you, it is natural to believe that it is also easy for everyone else, but that is not the case. We need to help our kids to discover their strengths!  

There are a few things that could make this happen. Knowing your students! Not just on a factual basis but also on a more personal basis. How would you otherwise discover, what makes them tick, what they love, who they are?

Time, patience and more unsupervised time! 

It takes time to build relations that are genuine. And it takes time for the child to immerse oneself. I sometimes worry about the amount of unsupervised time that each child has for themselves during a day. In Denmark the schooldays a few years ago were made substantially longer, basically to perform better in PISA and other tests. Though the intentions were to reform the school system, reality was “more of the same” a lot of instructional education. Fortunately we have solid traditions for teaching project based but that part is rather small compared to what their time is spent on. Especially in 8th and 9th grade, which concludes our basic school, the teachers often depend on instructional teaching, because they have so much knowledge they need to cover before exam — or that is the standard argument for not working more with projects.   

When I was a child the schooldays were about 4-5 hours each day including breaks. I had a lot of time after school on my own or with friends. There were no adults present to manage our activities, and we did a lot of tinkering in that time — sometimes rather dangerous things, but that is another story, for another time. That extra time is now taken away by our school system and filled with textbooks. I strongly urge all the schools, I work with, to make way for more project based, constructional, student-centered learning. The after school programs, which most kids attend because the parents are working, also need to be a more inspiring place to spend your time. A place to tinker, do what you love, make stuff together with other kids and have fun! A place where the adults know when to leave kids alone, and when to help and guide them.

Think of your favorite childhood game or activity… Where was the adult?

True, meaningful play comes from within the child – not from an adult telling you what to do!

Make sure they get time to tinker!