Tinker and Play with the Program Ideas You Want to Build and Nurture for Students

When imagining, designing, and implementing a new school program, make the PD/PL about playing and tinkering and living into the project!

Photo of Bo Adams
5 2

Written by

At Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (MVPS) in Atlanta, GA, we are building and expanding our Maker, Design, and Engineering program. So, our "R&D department," championed by the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation (MVIFI), is helping construct a learning arc to nurture capacity growing in administrators, faculty, teacher leaders, etc. for living the life of a maker. 

Simply put, the learning arc just provides opportunities for adults to immerse themselves in the tinkering and play involved with many maker projects. In the video, people can see an administrative team meeting in which we make scribble bots! And in this blog post, folks can read about the more complete arc that we are building for living the change we want to create for our school. 


Join the conversation:

Photo of Chris Good

Bo, I love the idea that PD should begin with Tinkering and Play. I know I learn so much more when I dive into something new or don't understand and try to take it apart, modify it, explore it ......and then approach from a more formal standpoint.

Sometimes is is much easier to make all the necessary connections - after you've broken something and see all the pieces inside!!!

I am curious how you might see tinkering and play combined with more formal instruction - as a way of introducing a topic or issue. What do you think that might look like?

Photo of Bo Adams

I am grateful for your comment and your contribution to my continued thinking. Thanks so much. I am most intrigued by the term "formal instruction." What, exactly, does that mean? I ask, partly, because I viewed the session on which this post draws as "formal instruction." Albeit the session involved tinkering, making, play, and discussion of Edith Ackerman's research. We set conditions so that the learning could be emotionally felt and cognitively experienced. So, there was a combinatorial strategy that was purposefully designed into the session - into the instructional design as part of the UbD plan for the admin meeting. 

Photo of Chris Good

hmmm.. . I probably could have worded that better - because I completely agree the approach you describe absolutely meets both of those categories - open emotional and cognitive exploration within a framework providing context, goals, and purpose etc...

What I probably should have asked is "In PLACE OF formal instruction?

I just wonder what happens when we take the reins off a little and let the explorations take their own direction. Then circle back and investigate what we have discovered (however unexpected).

But you already get into this a little with your post below about time, pacing, efficiency and effectiveness. There absolutely is a "magic in making" especially when where you end up is far from where you intended to go.

I have to laugh at myself a little - because I'm as big an advocate of  LESS formality as you might find.

Photo of William Ferriter

Hey Bo, 

I'm all about tinkering and play as a form of learning, that's for sure.  Do you worry at all about the amount of time that it takes for tinkering and play to lead to shared outcomes?  

It makes me cringe to even say that time should be a factor in anyone's learning -- but will time be a factor that causes tinkering to be pushed aside as a form of adult learning?  Is there a way to design some kind of pacing for your project that does push people beyond that initial experimentation?

Hope you are well, by the way!  Miss connecting with you.

Photo of Bo Adams

It's great to see you here, on Teachers Guild. I so appreciate your comment and questions. Thank you. 

I am not "worried" at all about the amount of time that it takes for tinkering and play to lead to shared outcomes. To be sure, the ideas expressed in this post are 1) not stand-alone, but part of a more complete system, and 2) meant for adding to a specific ideate phase where suspension of judgement helps spur richer thinking. 

To go a bit deeper, I just read this article: http://nextgenlearning.org/blog/students-design-tinker-create-and-discover-through-maker-based-learning
I love the quote: 
"The maker mindset is almost magical.
Educators light up.
Through discovery and play
their passions are reawakened." –Greg Klein, Rogers Family Foundation

In this particular learning session (a.k.a. "a meeting"), we were invoking feeling and thinking about WHY we are engaging in maker, design, and engineering programming. Both purpose and play weave together to reveal emotions and insights that are fundamentally important to learning, as well as to administrative planning to set the conditions for expansive and exciting learning - deeper learning. 

So, for this particular idea shared, we gladly traded "efficiency" for "effectiveness." The resulting discussion and planning were enriched because the activities tapped the "magic of the maker mindset" and allowed for the administrative group gathered to dig deeply into what this type of learning can create and generate and nurture in learners. 

Does pacing matter? Sure. I think it does. In this case, the pace was changed intentionally so that we could dive into Edith Ackerman's research with a different emotional state and cognitive awareness primed and ready. We were working on the MV Mindsets of "collaborator, communicator, solution seeker, innovator, and creative thinker." So, we prioritized certain desired outcomes above time, and we hypothesized that time spent tinkering here - by adults - would quicken our overall pace because of a different - FELT - level of empowerment and enrichment. 

So, the experimentation was part of an intentional and purposeful arc. Not simply a time filler in a meeting. The follow-up work has been exciting and invigorating, and many learners - young and old(er)- are experiencing more agency, partly sparked by that scribble-bot making on that August afternoon. 

I, too, miss connecting with you. I am excited by our conversation being scheduled in January!