Tinkering School

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How Much Should Collaborators Help?

Pedagogy and PhilosophyNik Brocchini

On the last day of camp this summer, I found myself frantically threading rope and tying knots to finish the project (part of an obstacle course), while the tinkerers played in the park. At that moment, I had to wonder: Is it OK that I’m helping this much?

Author Nik helps out during drill training.

As a collaborator, I don’t want to either be so overbearing that I take over the project, but I’m also wary of becoming so far removed that I’m not helping kids when they need support.

It’s important to give kids the space they need to innovate and problem-solve, but it’s also important to model engagement and be ready to teach.

While wrestling with these opposing goals, I’ve come to think of myself as a sort of seeing-eye dog. Tinkerers walk into camp with some skills and knowledge, but they also come with some gaping blind spots. It’s my job as a collaborator/guide dog to use my skills and knowledge to fill in the cracks in theirs.

My goal is to help them to do more than they could by themselves while also keeping them safe. By offering them, albeit temporarily, my broader set of skills, they can feel more empowered as makers, while also learning a few new tricks.

Santiago climbs on the finished obstacle.

So was it OK for me to put together the final pieces of the project? I think so. That team of tinkerers (where the average age was six), didn’t have the manual dexterity, height, and strength needed to create a sturdy rope web. So, the parts that they could do, they did, the parts they needed help with, I helped with, and the parts that I needed to do, I did. When the kids returned from the park, they were surprised but not displeased. Their wonder quickly gave way to a new flurry of bracing and bolting, before their parents arrived.

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