Tinkering rolls personalized learning and critical thinking into one powerful package

Picture this: a grandparent working on a car in the garage or a kid figuring out the inner workings of a clock. A group of students with screwdrivers in hand taking apart old desktop computers to learn about circuits. Or a parent encouraging their child to invent contraptions for feeding pets or taking apart everyday objects such as old clocks and doorknobs to figure out how things work.

Tinkering in the modern context is a process of trying something to figure out what works or doesn’t to find your way to the best solution, often going through many iterations, or changes, along the way. Tinkering is more a philosophy than a single practice and thus can be applied to many forms of learning for all learners.

In a blog post discussing their work, authors Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien discuss the science behind making mistakes and becoming experts. Experts are not made by practice alone, instead they deliberately tinker to determine which strategies are working or not working, and strategically develop areas that need improvement.

And it’s not just students that can benefit from a little tinkering. As an educator and lifelong learner, I have been submitted to, engaged myself in, planned, delivered, and coached others through countless professional learning opportunities. The ones that stick and are most successful, involve voice and choice. Most of those experiences have been facilitated in a manner which models how successful teachers teach.

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