Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Tinkering for students

I watched Caine’s Arcade yesterday (see below) and while it is a bit sad to me that an amazing kids’ endeavour has turned into an opportunity for a film-maker, the movie itself is very touching. I recommend watching it.


Caine is not an unusual child, but he has had a number of unusual circumstances which have allowed him to create his arcade. First, he has dedicated space that has been created for him to pursue his interest. This is unfortunately extremely uncommon for many children today. He has parents who completely support their son’s exploration, and act as mentors to assist him. He has access to the materials and tools he needs. He is not judged on his creations by a rubric, or by a test, but rather his creations are seen as part of a description of who he is. The creations Caine has made are only physically distinct from him; they can be seen as an extension of himself.

Tinkering to me means, the ability for kids to create and explore in ways not bound by the current rules and structures of schools. The original explorations of programming using Logo to me were more about tinkering than computer science. Unfortunately, over time, tinkering on a small scale looks like a useful activity for students to do, and so it gets scaled up. For example, this page about using Logo in learning now includes sample projects with "step by step" instructions. When creation becomes scripted, it ceases to be creation, and becomes assembly.

So instead of scaling up tinkering, what I’d prefer to see is individuals given freedom and resources to produce what they think tinkering space should look like. Instead of thousands of identical tinkering spaces, each space should be unique and suited to the community in which it exists. The explosion of art work created in community centres has happened not because we tried to create a formal structure for people to do art in society, but because we provided spaces and resources for these centres to develop.

I’d like everyone to have the opportunity Caine has, to explore the world and build extensions of themselves in it.