Collaborative Tinkering Toolkit

Simple strategies and mindsets to help build an exploratory environment for both teachers and students.

Photo of Fallon Plunkett
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Teacher plays both roles: teacher and student

  1.       Classroom setup: Circle with a seat for you→ This sounds so simple (and it is), but it communicates so much. When desks are in rows or even in a U the focal point is still the teacher or whoever is presenting information.  If our goal is to model curiosity and problem-solving the students need to be able to see us as students and exploratory learners. The role of teacher visibly shifts when a teacher joins their students and students know the difference. 

Give students the power to plan

  1. Have students design a unit, lesson or activity for their class or another one of your classes. Students can understand the user, the client and create a clear deliverable that can be tested and iterated.
  2. In my senior public policy course I have a group of students who are planning an empathy activity for another teacher. They are researching the topic, in this case rheumatoid arthritis, and building a hands-on activity for other students in the school to engage in. They have a clear client and user. They will need to go through the design process and in the end we are collaborating.   The teacher and the students are working together to build this product. 

    1. Give students the permission to try and fail
    2. Students want to do well, parents when their children to do well...but what does “doing well” mean? As teachers we aren’t looking for regurgitated answers, we want students to think on their own and solve problems. If we are going to make changes in the world we need the space to test ideas, iterate and re-test. Our testing culture doesn’t allow for this mindset. So let’s make it very clear that we feel it’s okay to TRY AND FAIL.  Give them permission to do it and reward them when they do.
    3.       Make this concept very visible- create a permission slip that both students and parents sign

            Permission Slip to Try and Fail

          I acknowledge that in order to truly learn I need the space and support to feel comfortable trying and exploring new ideas and methods. Therefore I _____________________ give myself permission to try and fail and keep repeating that cycle until I feel that I have reached my educational goal (with the support of my teacher).

          I acknowledge that in order to for my child  to truly learn they need the space and support to feel comfortable trying and exploring new ideas and methods. Therefore I _____________________ give my child ________________ permission to try and fail and keep repeating that cycle until s/h/ze feels that s/h/ze has reached their educational goal (with the support of their teacher).

      1.       Reflective Rubric that rewards growth, intellectual risks, process and the development of skills over the content knowledge
      2. In House Research
      3. Thorough notes
      4. Uses various sources
      5.  Includes evidence of analysis: questioning, wondering and insights __________________________________________________________________________________
      6. Field Research
      7. Includes pictures, interviews, quotes, insights
      8.  Shows skills: communication persistence, resilience, empathy __________________________________________________________________________________
      9. Reaching out to Experts
      10. Evidence that you are trying to connect with experts- via email, phone or conference
      11.  Shows skills: communication persistence and resilience _________________________________________________________________________________
      12. Feedback and Iteration
      13.  Shows evidence of asking for feedback and using that in your iteration _________________________________________________________________________________
      14. Use of Class Time
      15.  Used class time well: collaborate with partners, communicate with experts, build, practice, etc. _________________________________________________________________________________
      16. Intellectual Risks
      17. Group members tried something new that was outside their comfort zone

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Giving Permission


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Photo of Jennifer Gaspar- Santos

I like this permission slip to fail idea! I hosted a workshop with faculty back in June and one of the things we set up was a failure wall. All of us posted something that we failed at whether it be "bombing  a meeting or failing to meet a deadline or even getting rejected on a date" It framed the meeting well and we kept the wall at the front of the room for the entire project and there was something liberating about it. It also went along nicely with a failure bow activity--folks take a bow when they make a mistake with the game we were playing. 

great idea on having parents sign it too-- very counerculture-- I like that!

Photo of Kengo Yamada

Agreed! I also love the permission slip idea, and I feel it would be great talking point in class with the students to make them feel part of that process and informed behind the reasoning for the permission slip. 

I feel like it would go great for fostering a STEMist culture mindset in the classroom. Great idea, Fallon.

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