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How tinkering makes learning STEM skills a fun adventure

The Joy of Tinkering or How To Make Learning STEM Fun

Tinkering and the Maker Movement are hot areas for STEM learning. These programs are so engaging because kids and teens love to create and experiment.

To better illustrate the power of Tinkering, TechVenture instructor Anuja describes how tinkering ignites a love for learning. The photographs are from a different Tinkering class and taken by TechVentures photographer Leila Saghafi.

How Playing Makes Learning STEM Fun

At TechVentures camps and STEM learning programs kids learn through tinkering

Students gain hands-on experience in STEM fields like robotics and programming.

It is said that any advanced form of learning is indistinguishable from play.

During a spring break workshop at a nearby elementary school, I guided students in tinkering with littleBits. If you’ve never heard of littleBits, it’s a platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks that empower you to invent anything, from your own remote controlled car to a smart home device. The Bits snap together with magnets, no soldering, no wiring, no programming needed.  It’s pretty cool, and my kids thought so too.

The students started learning about the electronic bits by playing with them to figure out what each piece did and how it worked. We had a group of 7 students and the moment they were introduced to what could be done- how the Bits connected to make a circuit. They were ready to build something, anything, to see what they could create!

Tinkering teaches kids teamwork and creative problem solving in a fun environment

Through tinkering kids work as a team and develop creative problem-solving skills.

The students started learning about the electronic bits by playing with them to figure out what each piece did and how it worked. We had a group of 7 students and the moment they were introduced to what could be done- how the Bits connected to make a circuit. They were ready to build something, anything, to see what they could create!

As they began to experiment, their eagerness increased rapidly, and for some, it became a feverish speed. As the facilitator I thought, wait, you’re going too fast… think- think about what you are building and how – That’s what’s most fun! I walked around asking questions, to help them pause and make new discoveries. A whoop and a holler, exclamations of “Cool!” often brought students running to learn what their peers had discovered along their journey of creating an everyday electronic circuit to power a hypnotizing wheel or measure the atmosphere.

TechVentures students use littleBits for some of their making and tinkering exercises.

Students enjoy engineering their own toys and gadgets.

It Feels Like Play, But Kids Learn Problem Solving Skills

But it wasn’t always fun and happiness. There were sometimes groans and sighs of exasperation when a circuit didn’t work. I’d ask the students questions to help them find the problem in their circuit and fix it. Some students were eager to fix it; others wanted it fixed for them.

TechVenture after school and summer programs offers kids a chance to practice design and engineering through tinkering

TechVenture after school and summer programs offers kids a chance to practice design and engineering through tinkering

As the workshop progressed over a few days, students worked towards designing bigger electronics through conversations as they tinkered. Their eyes lit up on the 3rd day when I wrote an Engineering Challenge on the whiteboard: Invent a Self-Driving Vehicle. Criteria for success: it should have futuristic features. As a group, we discussed the challenge and brainstormed the criteria for success and how we would test the machine.

The room was abuzz as students formed into smaller groups of two to design and invent their machines. Most first prototype cars ran in circles, or the wheels wobbled off, or the car’s body dragged until it caught on something and it crashed. But, I had noticed a change in the class. There were no sounds of sighing or groaning. Instead, students grabbed their vehicles and collaborated on what they could improve.  The questions I had asked them to help solve the problem, they were now asking each other. I was thrilled!

Learning to tinker isn’t so much about what one creates. It is about what students learn along the way: grit and determination, perseverance and the ability to problem solve.

Tinkering activities offer kids a sense of accomplishment as they learn design and engineering principals

Tinkering activities offer kids a sense of accomplishment as they learn design and engineering principals

How Tinkering & Making May Ignite the Love of STEM in Your Child

If you live in Washington state, consider enrolling your kid or teen in a TechVenture program. TechVenture offers fun, engaging STEM coding and robotics summer camps and after school clubs. Tinkering and hands-on making exercises are at the core of our programs. Learning should be an adventure.

Does your Washingon school need a STEM enrichment program? Contact us to start one!

If you don’t live in Washington, google local tinkering, STEM and maker clubs and camps for activities in your local area.

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