Art of Tinkering MOOC – ScribbleBots #TinkeringMOOC

In week three of the Coursera-Exploratorium Art of Tinkering MOOC, I made my first ScribbleBot. A hobby motor, some kind of base, markers, and a battery combine to make visible the motion of a motored object.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

WEEKLY ACTIVITY: Make a few scribbling machines of your own, using our video and Activity Guide [link removed]. Try different materials, personalize your machine, and experiment freely! Then post your photos (and videos!) in this week’s forum [link removed] and tag them #tinkeringmooc on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so they appear on our social media wall. We can’t wait to see all the variations you come up with!

Making the ScribbleBot was very fun and easy – to get started with a first iteration. And the real fun and learning increased when I began to play with the variables of the bot to see what effects the alterations would have. As my sons joined me in my investigation and iterations, they began to make hypotheses about what would happen if they used different materials and designs for the bot.

REFLECTION QUESTION: Based on your experience in the class so far, which learning dimensions and indicators from the framework [link removed] are easy to see, and which are harder to pinpoint or recognize? Share your thoughts in the discussion forum [link removed].

So, I am removing the links from the Coursera weekly prompts because they lead to information behind the Coursera portal. However, the Learning Dimensions tool is Google-able, and there is a nice, short piece about the instrument on Lego Engineering.

During my time in the class so far, I think the following dimensions are easier to see:

  • Engagement – Spending time in Tinkering activities; Displaying motivation or investment through affect or behavior
  • Initiative and Intentionality – Persisting to achieve goals in the problem space
  • Social Scaffolding – Requesting or offering help in solving problems; Inspiring new ideas or approaches; Physically connecting to others’ works
  • Development of Understanding – Expressing a realization through affect or utterances; Offering explanation(s) for a strategy, tool or outcome; Striving to understand

For me, the more challenging dimensions to observe and notice explicitly are:

  • Initiative and Intentionality – Setting one’s own goals; Seeking and responding to feedback (environmental); Taking intellectual risks or showing intellectual courage [unless person is self-talking or sharing aloud among the community of tinkerers]
  • Development of Understanding – Applying knowledge

I actually think it’s fabulous how many of these (which are more fully understood when looking at the “descriptors” on the tool) are directly observable. When the learning dimensions are observable, I think the ability to provide growth-mindset coaching and questioning and encouragement strengthens for the facilitator.

TINKERING JOURNAL PROMPT: Record your response to this week’s reflection question, as well as two or three different responses from the discussion forum in your design journal. In what ways are the responses helpful to your educational practice?

[Posted directly to Coursera discussion.]

And I loved this video lesson from Dr. Edith Ackermann, who I was able to meet at the New York Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference for Assistant Heads, where she and I both presented/facilitated.

“Play is children’s most serious work.”

“Playfulness is a counterpoint to curiosity.”

“Playfulness is about allowing yourself to leap…as if when you knew that when you do that you come to see things anew.”

“In playful environment you feel safe enough to explore ideas that would otherwise be risky.”

Dr. Ackermann’s description of the importance of the eye also significantly resonates with me and all that I am working on relative to curiosity and observation journals…connected with the Tim Brown idea that “Innovation begins with an eye.” That it’s not merely simple trial and error, but it is something more sophisticated, rooted in advanced observation of the eye to gather feedback and apply that learning to enhanced iterations.


On Tuesday, I will open a meeting with division heads and heads of learning and innovation by facilitating creation of ScribbleBots. I plan to come back later to this post and add images/notes from that experience.



Art of Tinkering MOOC – Circuits #TinkeringMOOC (Tinkering Journal Post #1, August 22, 2015.)

Art of Tinkering MOOC – Circuits #TinkeringMOOC

At Mount Vernon, we are advancing our design thinking work in many ways. Most recently, we are expanding our Maker and Media Programs and building our Design and Engineering Programs. So that MVIFI and I can be strong supporters of this work, and because I am just genuinely fascinated, I am currently taking the Art of Tinkering MOOC from the Exploratorium via Coursera.

In order to capture some of my playing and learning (possibly redundant) with tinkering and making, I am establishing a new category on my blog – “tinkering journal.” And this is the first post in this category. On the Coursera site, there are great places to post and journal, but I decided to originate my posts here and paste the URLs to my course on Coursera. So, these journal entries are really for me and my reflective practice, but you are welcome to read along – if you do, I hope you find something intriguing and that you start your own tinkering.

Week 2 – Circuit Boards

WEEKLY ACTIVITY AND SHARING: Please gather materials and try making a few circuit boards of your own, using the Activity Guide [link removed] for reference. Write about your experience playing around with the circuit boards and post your photos in the Week Two Activity forum [link removed]. Don’t be afraid to show us your failures as well as your successes! If you use social media, be sure to tag your photos#tinkeringmooc so they show up on our social media wall!

Creating the circuit boards was a blast. In #fsbl mode, Phillip and I constructed the circuit boards together. Previously we had played with the battery pack, light bulb, switch, alligator clips, etc. when they were loose and “unboarded,” but they were challenging to manage and wire together when the components were loose. Once mounted on the boards, with the nail-post terminals, the play was much more fun. We could concentrate on the experiments and outcomes from our tinkering, and we could spend less time just manipulating the parts into connection.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Through the tinkering play, I loved listening to Phillip and me as we thought out loud about what we were constructing and experimenting to explore electricity. Even though we turn on lights all the time in our house or with a flashlight, there was something almost magical about connecting that little lightbulb to the batteries and seeing it illuminate. Despite its simplicity, we were proud of our work. The high five proved it.

Next, we worked to install a switch in the line. I took my turn first and used four wires (I think). The light turned on with the switch open, which Phillip and I were not expecting. Our eye-brow-raised, immediate eye lock proved it. Immediately, Phillip wondered aloud what could be causing that. He made a hypothesis, and we traced the circuit with our fingers (a technique recommended by the Exploratorium course teachers). Even though this outcomes was not what we were building for or expecting, we did not feel at all like failures. We had explored and discovered something, and we were even more determined to wire the system so a closed switch would turn on the light. After conjecturing about having an extra wire, we reduced the wires to three and lit the bulb with a closed switch! More high fiving commenced!

When Anne-Brown came down to the basement to check on us, she couldn’t help herself. She had to start wiring and playing, too. Such is the way it is with tinkering. It’s highly contagious and draws people in.

REFLECTION QUESTION: After trying out the Circuit Boards activity (or watching the videos if you couldn’t try it), how has your thinking been impacted? Some aspects to consider: your understanding of circuits, the process of investigation, and your role as learner and/or teacher. Please contribute your thoughts to the Week Two forum [link removed]!

Through the circuit board activity, I definitely grew to understand circuits better. While this may shock and surprise my father-in-law, who helped me finish a house basement – including the electrical – I grew in truly understanding how the elements in a series could contribute to different outcomes with the bulb and sound device. Keeping the wires visible and using different colored alligator clips made for easy tracing and thinking about what wires were doing what in the circuits. Following the advice of the Exploratorium faculty, tracing the wires when an exploration was successful or unsuccessful really helped to conceptualize the actual electron flow through the system.

The process of investigation was fun and intriguing, and I think the experience was more fun with Phillip as a partner. We got to play together and hypothesize together and discover together. I was mesmerized with how much more quickly he seemed to “get” the electron flow tracing than I did. I would often sit and ponder still, even after Phillip was dismantling the current wiring and explaining what we needed to do next to “fix” our reasoning.

Phillip and I regularly, seamlessly, and continuously switched roles of “student” and “teacher,” and we were constantly in co-learner mode. I did try to model the questioning and facilitation techniques recommended by the Exploratorium facilitators. Simple questions like, “What do you think is going to happen when we wire it like that? What makes you think that? Can you trace the circuit wires with your finger and talk through what you think is happening?” were extraordinarily expanding to our activity and perceptual understanding.

TINKERING JOURNAL PROMPT: Make a drawing of a circuit (or two) that worked when you connected it. Make a drawing (or two) of a circuit that didn’t work when connected. What did it take for you to become more comfortable exploring circuits in this way? How much time did it take? What contributed your “aha” moments, or frustrations?

Below are a few sketches of the circuit explorations described above. Because we are both already tinkerers and attend a school that supports and promotes the principle that “curiosity and passion drive learning,” Phillip and I were very comfortable exploring circuits in this way. However, we did both feel a sense of “we want to make this work.” As we played more, I would say this changed into “Let’s see what all we can make work.” It took us about ninety minutes to make the boards and play. And it seemed like about ten minutes had gone by when we were done for the day.

Circuit sketches

Circuit sketches

After making circuits that weekend, I went to school on Monday, and I played again with the circuit boards with T.J. and Meghan. T.J. is our Director of Design and Engineering Programs, and Meghan is our Director of Innovation Diploma. T.J. is who connected me with this MOOC and set me up with the circuit materials. As T.J. built more boards, Meghan played with different configurations of the circuit boards that had already been built. It was so fun to watch her experiment, especially after I had figured out some “mysteries” over the weekend with Phillip. I think I did a pretty good job of biting my tongue and letting her explore without my newfound knowledge getting in her exploratory way. I did take advantage of having someone on which to practice further my recommended facilitation skills. Most help, I think the circuit tracing and thinking aloud really helps.

As I walked to the Founders Campus, I got a text from Meghan. “I did it!,” she proclaimed. She wanted to figure out how to light multiple lights and a small motor, and she was so excited with her discovery and success that she had to let me know. I think this excitement that people feel when making a victory in tinkering is such a compelling part of this methodology and opportunity to learn by doing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Demos and Tinkerings

What are the similarities and differences in “demo-ing” and “tinkering” in science? Or in any discipline? When do we, as teachers, demonstrate a concept to students, and when do we encourage play, experimentation, and discovery on one’s own? I imagine that both demo-ing and tinkering are important – I mean to spur discussion of the both/and possibilities, NOT argue for an either/or decision. In the past year, in particular, I have read and observed a great deal about the uses of demo-ing and tinkering…such understanding seems critical to me amidst the important conversations encircling 21st century teaching and learning.

On Wednesday, March 30, 2011, I enjoyed an amazing school visit at St. Gregory School in Tucson, AZ. Below you can view 4 minutes and 17 seconds of video showing a mere snapshot of what I observed in science at St. Gregory. [I have a lot of video still to produce from my school visits…but this is a start!] Dr. Scott Morris, chair of the science department, took a lot of time with me explaining the changes and transitions in science instruction that St. Gregory is experiencing and precipitating. There is a concerted effort – with much evidence of success – for the student learners to decrease their time in “sit-n-get” and increase their time “doing science.” From my brief exposure to science at St. Gregory, I would say that they are building a tinkering paradise.

As I strolled to the science wing of the high school, two boys were burning leaves with a magnifying glass. I did just this thing two weeks ago with my older son PJ. In this case, however, the StG students were fogging the space between the leaf pile and the lens. With an iPhone, the boys were recording the light cone whose finest tip was causing the burn of the foliation. As far as I could tell, they had designed this experiment. They ran into all kinds of interesting issues, and I heard them prototype their next attempt with the rest of their classmates. Those classmates were tinkering with transistors and receivers…soldering circuits that they had discovered directions for on the Internet. Another group was dismantling a radio and attempting to discover “what does this part do?” And there was evidence of the invention of a musical instrument that used electric charge and bar bending to create amplified sound.

Oh…did I mention that this is an AP class, and the students are reviewing for the AP exam. What a way to review! Of course, I realize that my limited view and time may not have revealed the full scope and measure of the class structure. However, from years of observation, I sensed that these students were in a routine…developing habits of mind…about hypothesizing, designing tests, and experimenting. They were practicing the scientific method, not just repeating or parroting it. They were being scientists.

In the middle school chemistry class, a different type of experimentation was occurring. The teacher was demonstrating a carbide cannon. But he explained there would be no boom until the reaction was recorded in writing and the equation was balanced. Watch the video below and see if they got to experience the boom. Certainly some seeds were planted and excitement generated. Those middle schoolers were tinkering with chemistry and catching the science bug – a bug that catches most all of us around age three. I believe their science teacher helped them sustain that natural curiosity and interest in their natural world. I wonder what type of experiments they might create when they get to the upper level science classes. Or even earlier…

I think the video provides an interesting look at the use of free-form tinkering and teacher-led demo-ing. Again, I maintain that both are important. Are both present in your facilitated learning? Your classroom? How do you utilize demo-ing, and how do you utilize tinkering? What is the balance of the methods for your student learners? Are they mostly sitting-n-getting, observing demos, tinkering? What recipes may result in the best tasting learning? Could the recipes be different for different types of learners? Different types of teachers? And how might those terms – students, learners, teachers – be blurred in distinction when we try different recipes and methods and pedagogies?

NOTE: If I understood correctly, St. Gregory uses a block schedule. Classes are 70 minutes in length and meet every other day. However, the AP science classes meet everyday for 70 minutes for an extended time in which to experiment and learn. I may have misunderstood however.