One of my library goals this year is to give students, teachers, and families opportunities to dream, tinker, create, and share. That has meant many things during the course of this year, but one of the things that so many of our teachers are embracing with me is intentionally planning time for students to tinker with a new tool before we ask them to create a project with it.
During collaborative meetings and virtual planning with teachers, I often ask if we can build in time for students to explore a technology tool with no limits, rules, or assignments. The only assignment is to push as many buttons as you can and see what you can figure out about that tool. In addition, there is an expectation that students will pass on their expertise to others as they figure something out through tinkering.
There have been several instances of this type of tinkering happening this year. Ms. Hocking gave her Kindergarten students time to tinker with storykit. All of third grade tinkered with Puppet Pals before a folktale project.
This week, first grade is also taking time to tinker with the Puppet Pals app as they prepare for an opinion writing assignment in English Language Arts.
Finally, 2nd grade is about to start creating math screencast tutorials using the Educreations app for iPad.
As I’ve facilitated these tinkering sessions, I’ve started to adjust how the sessions run. We start on the floor to talk about tinkering. Students share some knowledge about what they already know about tinkering. Some of the responses I’ve heard are: a time to explore, a time to be busy, and figuring things out. I follow this with my own understanding of tinkering. I establish two big ground rules: 1. Push every button you see in an app and see what it does. 2. Share what you learn.
In most classes, I breeze through the app with very little explanation of what I’m doing just so that students get a quick preview of what they will be looking at and what they might end up with. In Educreations, I wrote 2+2=____ and then drew out a picture of how I solved that math problem. I didn’t talk about clicking on colors, the microphone, or really anything. I just wanted them to get a quick view of the end result.
Then, students had a large chunk of time to explore on the iPads. For 2nd grade, we did this in pairs, but some classes have been individuals. My role was to walk around and observe. A few students were tempted to ask me how to do something, but I responded with a “give it a try”. Very rarely did I do something for a student. The only time I intervened was when students needed help getting the app up and running or if the iPad had a technical problem.
As I observed, I would stop and ask students questions like “What did you figure out?” or “Why did you choose to do that in that way?” or “Now that you’ve seen how that works, would you do it a different way next time?”. These were common questions that I used again and again and they certainly were not ones that I started with. I was very tempted at first to just jump in and show students something, but I learned to step back and ask questions that allowed students to show what they know.
I saw students naturally leaning over and helping other students, but during my observations, I sometimes saw an opportunity for 2 students to partner and share their learning. This was another role for me to serve as a connector between students.
The energy level was high, and there was some frustration. However, I did not see any student give up, get completely off task, or leave without learning something about how the app worked.
At the closing of each lesson, we gathered back on the floor. I connected an iPad to the projector and had students come and demo their learning for the rest to see. We tried to move as quickly as possible to share as many tips as we could. A big observation for me during this time was how attentive students were. I’ve never seen students watch a peer presenter with such focus. Usually, they are having side conversations or tuning out to think about other things. This time they were watching, listening, and giving connection signals if they had also figured out that part of the app. If time allowed, I had students turn to one another on the carpet and share even more that they had discovered. During the closing, I tried to connect what students had discovered with the actual project that we would be implementing next. For example, a student did a demo of how you can erase while you are recording and I added that this might be a tool you would use while modeling subtraction in a video.
Now that this time of tinkering has happened, our next step is to do the work. First grade will use Puppet Pals to create opinion puppet shows and 2nd grade will create math tutorials to share. I’m eager to see how productive students are now that they have had time to get familiar with the app before a curriculum standard expectation was placed on them. My want to continue to explore the power of tinkering and how it can support the work that we are trying to achieve with students.