Tinkering – more than trial and error

As part of my Tinkering Class, the facilitators host a Google Hangout each week. Today, I finally had a chance to watch last week’s video. Wow.

This week’s guest was Edith Ackermann and I thoroughly enjoyed her insights and her enthusiasm for one of her topics of expertise – play. Ackermann* works at MIT and has studied under Piaget and Seymour Papert. Although this is a poor explanation, one could say that both of these theorists place a lot of value on hands-on activities and self-exploration.

Anyone who has studied the field of education has heard of Piaget, although it is much lesser known that he was first a follower of Dr. Montessori’s. (As a Montessorian…it has to be said)!  I have read a few of Papert’s papers on computers and children because of the work I do with Scratch. In fact, I was heavily influenced by this paper during the initial development of Code Camp’s structure and activity design (though I really need to read it again and tweak the class a bit more).

Regardless, I came away from the video reaffirming my idea that a “growth mindset” is important to success, but realized that I strongly agreed with Ackermann’s vision that tinkering should be more than just trial and error. Her point being that tinkering should encourage a person to view the problem and/or the solution from a different perspective.

Talk about an abstract concept to quantify and pin down. It reminded me of something I was told by a local French teacher. She was talking about the value of watching French Disney movies  – and obviously from the look on my face I wasn’t buying the initial educational usefulness.  Instead, she mentioned that it was another way to for them to “get it in their fingertips.”

As my educator husband and I have used that phrase many times over the years to describe really knowing something, I have just realized that this is probably what Ackermann is referring to when she mentions being able to see something from a different perspective. Only by being able to use/hear/encounter the French word in a different context are you truly going to be able to understand the problem and secure it in your long-term memory. Only by being able to see the problem/solution/object from a different perspective will you truly be able to understand it and then be able to change it and use it for something else entirely.


Or, maybe that’s what I “thought” I saw. Within psychology there doesn’t always seem to be a clear answer – most likely it’s purposely vague! Either way, it has me thinking and making small changes in the way I approach learning with my students. And, that’s a good thing.


* I can’t even begin to tell you how many papers and books that I have marked to read, suggestions from this course. Ackermann’s paper on “teachers as designers” is next on my list. As a Montessori-trained educator, I firmly believe in a prepared environment and I’m looking forward to seeing how she defines lesson design.