The idea of “learning by doing” is hardly new. For decades, educators have witnessed the power of engaging children in learning through hands-on experiences. And the benefits are clear. Children learn more and retain more. They are motivated to remain interested in learning. Most importantly, they are able to connect what they learn to the world outside their classrooms.
We believe educators must promote hands-on learning at all grade levels and throughout the curriculum. One way to do that is by giving children opportunities to tinker—to playfully approach and solve problems through direct experience, experimentation, and discovery.
The interest in classroom tinkering and project-based learning has been growing steadily. But educators are still unsure how to offer “makerspaces” in their classrooms so every child can access them safely and creatively. In this article, we’ll explore how to begin to nurture the practice of inventing, tinkering, and making in the classroom.
Re-Thinking the Classroom
Tinkering is a mindset. It’s a new way of thinking that calls for creativity through hands-on projects. It’s a reprieve from the rigors of the standards and book-based learning and a step into the world of limitless inventing, creating, and exploring.
There are different ways to create an inspired makerspace—from simple to more complex:
- Carve out time and space during the regular school day. Teachers can set aside a specific time for students to create and experiment. It can be daily, weekly, or even monthly. It can happen during an open lunch, before and after school, or during a family night. A makerspace will fit about anywhere. Convert an existing space into a space to tinker. Even a dedicated table or empty corner will work.
- Integrate tinkering into the curriculum: With planning, teachers can thoughtfully tie a maker project to the curriculum and standards. Look for intersections between students’ interests and instructional objectives. They are there. For example, a book students are reading for social studies or science can be inspiration for a related project.
- Create a maker-focused curriculum. As students and teacher get more comfortable with the idea of tinkering and are ready to go deeper, a maker-focused curriculum can be created. This is a structured way to shift students’ focus from academics to an actual maker project by emphasizing a process or skills. Instruction can then be tailored accordingly.
Funding and equipping a complete makerspace can be expensive. We know the constraints many educators faced when it comes to budgets, resources, time, and space. But they shouldn’t get in the way. The most important thing to keep in mind is that one can make do with what one has by simply being creative. Start small with a single project. Start somewhere—perhaps with one of the models described above.
Let the Creativity Begin
There are many ways teachers can support young makers. For starters, they can commit to regularly engage students in the process of making, sharing, and creating. They can give frequent feedback to students to guide their work. They can ask for student input—kids will have their own ideas about what to make and the materials needed to make it. They can also get parents involved by letting them know what their children are creating and inviting them to contribute materials.
Freedom of Thought is a Wonderful Thing
The ideas students come up with may not be practical today. But they may well be in the future. It’s really the tinkering process that matters. Young inventors will explore, try and fail, develop a sense of perseverance, and experience the thrill of making something out of nothing. What better way to prepare our young learners for tomorrow?
For a more detailed look at how to get your students to discover their passions and tinker with materials and concepts check out SDE’s webinar Ignite a Passion for Learning by Tinkering (Gr. K–5) by author and educational technology expert Dr. Lori Elliott.