Tinkering at Hollis Innovation Academy

At the beginning of March I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to work with the CEISMC program at Georgia Tech University and High Museum of Art on a couple of tinkering workshops. 

I spent all day Saturday with some passionate teachers at Hollis Innovation Academy, a great public school that's put a emphasis on STEAM content, collaboration and creativity. The teachers tried our Marble Machines and Art Bots workshops as learners and then we discussed the pedagogical and practical implications of these activities. 

Marble machines is one of the best introductory tinkering activities, but usually it's not possible when traveling for a workshop because the pegboard walls, tracks, pipes and blocks aren't exactly packable. But for this workshop we were fortunate that the CEISMC innovators could build the walls and prepare all the materials for the activity beforehand.  

Not only did this advance preparation allow them to participate in the marble machines activity, but it also meant that after the workshop the teachers could bring a marble board into their classroom. 

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I could tell having the materials ready to go this made a huge difference in the attitude that the teachers had about trying tinkering with their students and colleagues right away, but I was impressed with how fast they began prototyping new ideas. 

The week after the workshop, one of the teachers put an idea she had about marble machine extensions into practice. She was working on a literacy project with her students and thought that the activity would be the perfect subject for learning about vivid language and transitional phrases. So after her students built machines, they wrote about their machine using terms like, "first", "all of a sudden", and "finally". I like how this extension builds on the students' personal interests and connects to other disciplines outside of the traditional STEAM subjects. 

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A couple weeks later, the participants in our tinkering workshop led marble machines with other colleagues who didn't get the chance to join the session.It was really great to see how the engaged the other teachers in the process of building and started to grow their support network in the school. It's so cool to see that the workshop gave participants the agency to continue experimenting and immediately start sharing ideas around tinkering with students and colleagues. 

For this workshop we built in time for online follow up conversations and I can't wait to see what the group tries next. It will be fun to learn together about what tinkering looks like in this inspiring school setting. 

Ryan Jenkins