It’s impossible to watch Gever Tulley’s talk on Tinkering School and not want to get involved in some kind of playful experimentation. Whether with building materials, musical notes, a raspberry pi, or words on a page, playing around is an important process for students of all ages.
Unfortunately, standardized curriculum and routines at school don’t leave much room for unstructured play, but I think we could…
While we do have end products in mind — for example, I do need my students to give me a product that shows they've learned about New Imperialism— why should that stop us from workshopping, fiddling and “decorating” our way to the result? The idea that tinkering needs to take place in woodshop or auto mechanics limits students' use of this powerful process. Why not make two different plans for an essay, or develop six supporting paragraphs and select the nicest three? Why not create birthday cards or yearbook notes to historical figures to uncover their motives and feelings? Or, why not tinker with different settings and strategies for close reading?
Importantly, the role of the educator changes in the tinkering-fiddling-workshopping classroom. But I like what Tulley suggests when he says that his most important action is to “keep the landscape of the project tilted toward completion.” In that sense, instructors preserve forward momentum and can reward students for their work, progress, and practice, and not simply the end product.