On February 17 and 18, 2017, a Tinkering School team traveled to Monterrey, Mexico to present at the Live Curious Go Beyond Conference hosted by the American School Foundation of Monterrey.
Imagine, if you will, this image:
Blue skies, in a valley surrounded by mountains, the hot afternoon sun is beaming down. The San Franciscans certainly aren't used to this kind of February weather. The American School Foundation of Monterrey is a massive campus of interconnected vaulted ceiling buildings that are compartmentalized and subdivded into smaller classrooms. There's air conditioning. A giant cafeteria. Inspirational posters -- everywhere. Friends, we are far, far, away from 1960 Bryant Street.
Gever was invited to give the keynote and kick off the conference. His talk about dangerous things, the inherent bravery of children, and the ways in which Brightworks and Tinkering School foster both of those risky notions, helped to frame what the TS team's experience would be like for the two days of the conference. Tinkering School was there to push the boundaries, to show what hands-on learning can be in the form of hands-on activities, and to lend a helpful ear to the many, many educators that stopped to chat in the hallways, after our workshops, and even on our way to the bathroom.
As part of our stay in Mexico, Piper and Amanda hosted a 50 minute talk on linguistic strategies at Tinkering School. We helped to expand upon some of the concepts brought up during Gever's keynote, and also give an insight into what those practices look like day-to-day during our workshops.
We boiled down what we do and how we do it to three main takeaways:
- Don't dumb it down.
- Create a shared lexicon.
- Flip questions and statements.
(We'll expand upon these notions in future blog posts, for sure!)
The talk was well received, and also helped to contextualize some of the exercises that we led in our four Tinkering Challenge workshops.
Our first two tinkering challenge workshops were with students from ASFM, and explored ways in which teams could make tools to carry out a task. In our first session, we asked the students to create tools that could move really large washers from one cup to another, and also stack them on fence posts in precarious balancing towers.
Iteration after iteration yielded silly and serious duct taped, rubber banded, and wired poking sticks and makeshift spatulas that helped team move around clunky metal discs. Once a challenge was met, the teams begs for a new one and we increasingly made the asks more difficult all morning.
There was so much giggling and cheering in the sunshine, and it was wonderful to share those feelings with those young folks!
In the afternoon, we challenged an older group of students to create a track that could send a wheel down and back. The wheel was actually two paper cups duct taped together, and tracks proved to be more difficult than any of us could have envisioned. Wire and rubber bands and twine and duct tape and dowels were all failed track attempts. We experimented with slope and track width and with modifying the cups. It wasn't until nearly 90 minutes with all brains on deck that we arrived at a sort-of solution that allowed a modified wheel to painstakingly spin down some twine, but never back.
There was so much frustration and so much cheering. The big take away from this workshop was the failure. We found out later that these students are used to having right and wrong answers. They are familiar with being told the correct way to go about a thing, and the failure of this challenge was a shock that proved more powerful than finding the solution.
How could the TS facilitators set up a situation that they don't know the answer to? Well, actually, that's our job. The chats afterwards with both students and educators about that unexpected outcome was eye opening for all of us.
We closed the conference by holding two sessions with adult educators. We asked them to solve some aesthetic tinkering challenges -- visually recreate some lines from a Beatles song -- and we also took these folks through a classic TS Post-It brainstorming session.
The sessions were fun and useful and lead to a lot of great one-on-one conversations with people from around the globe. They wanted to know how to sneak TS Goals into their scripted public school curriculum. They wanted to know how to start Maker Spaces and inspire administration to drink the proverbial TS Kool Aid. They wanted to know how to stay in touch and pick our brains and collaborate on future projects.
For me, the big take away was this: experiential education is valuable. It teaches the students while teaching the adults and allows real-time problem solving practice that can't be taught in a book or through a test. Selling the idea isn't the challenge -- for many institutions, it's convincing folks to take a leap of faith and try it on... and if it doesn't work the first time, simply try it again. It's the process itself that you'll learn the most from.