Once in a while, you capture the exact moment that something special happens. Something unscripted, authentic, and awesome.
That’s how I felt about the reaction of this student who was working on her hanging mobile.
This part of the project required the students to locate the center of gravity of the third rung of their mobile so it would balance. Though we never used that specific term, “balancing point” did get said by my students in the natural course of their work.
To find that point, students slid the yarn that attached the rung to the hanging sculpture back and forth, until it leveled itself.
It was all done via tinkering.
I didn’t hold a lesson on the physics behind this phenomenon prior to them starting it. I didn’t talk to them about weights of the two sides of the stick. I didn’t do anything other than prompt them with the technique they would use to do their tinkering: “How can you slide this yarn back and forth to make this piece straight and level?”
I won’t lie and say this was easy for all of my students. It took a lot of patience and focus on their part, and certainly some encouragement from peers to “keep trying”, “don’t give up”, and to “fail up.” I suggested that they “think like scientists” and that this was like an experiment – pay attention to what happens each time you change something and ask yourself, “Is this better or worse?”
But when they got it to work, boy did their faces light up and the room filled with shouts of joy! The sense of accomplishment was both satisfying and inspiring.
And lest you think learning wasn’t happening, the students that were not yet successful began to ask how they did it. Listening in on the conversations you could hear comments like, “The side the string is closest to always falls down,” and “One side gets heavier when you move the yarn.” Others gave technique hints like, “Let go of the stick really carefully, and catch it if gets tippy.” The fundamentals of some pretty important engineering concepts are all there; each of them discovered instead of received.
NOTE: I often tell my students not to “do the work for others.” Instead I ask that they “help them learn to do it themselves.” At the end of the year, I’m very pleased at how much my first graders adhere to that important DIT (do it together) concept.
It’s this type of hands-on/minds-on type of learning experiences that I’ve come to enjoy designing the most for my students. Helping my students to learn to learn from these (seemingly) unstructured settings is one of the most valuable skills that I work to nurture in my students… both child and adult. If you are trying to prepare kids to be successful in a world where rapid change is the norm, then you have to give them the opportunity to take tinkering for a spin.
Heck, tinkering is how we got to where we are now… [pullquote2 quotes=”true” align=”right” variation=”deepblue” cite=”Curt Gabrielson, Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff”]From the dawn of time, whenever humanity has wanted to know more, we have achieved it most effectively not by removing ourselves from the world to ponder and theorize, but rather by getting our hands dirty and making careful observations of real stuff. In short, we have learned primarily by tinkering.[/pullquote2]
Images in this post, but not shown in the Image Credits section, are my own.