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Teaching Lifelong Learning Through Tinkering

Tinkering is the process of trying to solve problems through experiential learning activities. Proponents of tinkering take their example from one of the best-known tinkerers in history: Thomas Edison, who, for example, tested more than 6,000 plant materials before discovering that bamboo was the optimal choice for a light bulb filament.

Experiential learning activities can include tinkering, creative problem-solving and critical thinking — all skills that are particularly important for teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). A classroom exercise or experiment designed to encourage critical thinking and creative problem solving commonly involves the following processes:

  1. Identifying an objective.
  2. Conducting research.
  3. Generating ideas.
  4. Developing solutions.
  5. Evaluating solutions.

The following are a few ways to encourage experimentation, creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills in the classroom.

MysterySkype for Critical Thinking

MysterySkype is a global guessing game played between two classrooms. The goal of the game is to guess the geographic location of the partner classroom by asking questions on Skype. Instructors can use MysterySkype to teach STEM, geography, culture and history. The game’s interactivity also promotes student collaboration and improves critical thinking skills.

Teach Coding for Problem Solving

Coding can help improve problem-solving skills, and it can help students understand the challenges facing the world today. For example, offers resources, lessons and tutorials to help you teach computer science to students of all ages.

Games can also be useful in code instruction. Cargo-Bot is a fun, challenging game for grades 5 through 12 that can help kids learn to think like programmers. The step-by-step logic teaches students to tackle a big problem by breaking it down into steps.

Hardware and Hands-On

While working with hardware may take longer than learning coding, teaching computer science through experiential learning activities, hands-on tinkering, making and programming can improve problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

For example, Raspberry Pi (a small, inexpensive computer) is a small Linux platform that has changed the do-it-yourself coding world. Since the RasPi launched in 2012, it has gone through several revisions, becoming more powerful and more capable while also becoming smaller.
Beyond the RasPi’s basic hardware and software capabilities, the platform has generated a very active community that has expanded the range of its possibilities by sharing information about the popular computer’s capabilities.

Learn more about the University of Texas at Arlington online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction — Science Education program.


eSchool News: Why we all need time to tinker with tech

Edison Museum: Edison Files

EdTechReview: Few Great Ways to Teach Skills like Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Edutopia: 15+ Ways of Teaching Every Student to Code (Even Without a Computer)

Information Week: 9 Raspberry Pi Projects For Your Summer Vacation

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