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The Tinkering Studio Our Work


Our work at the tinkering studio

A studio workshop for playful invention, investigation, and collaboration


red and green leds

The Tinkering Studio is an immersive, active, creative place at the Exploratorium where museum visitors can slow down, become deeply engaged in an investigation of scientific phenomena, and make something—a piece of a collaborative chain reaction—that fully represents their ideas and aesthetic.

In The Tinkering Studio, visitors are invited to explore a curiosity-driven exhibit, chat with a featured artist, or investigate a range of phenomena with staff artists, scientists, educators, and others by participating in a collaborative activity. A large, eclectic assortment of materials, tools, and technologies are provided for people to use as they explore and create.

toilet paper roll
photos of the tinkering studio

Hours and Location

The Tinkering Studio is located inside the Exploratorium, the museum of science, art, and human perception.

Museum Hours:

Tues-Sun 10 am to 5 pm
Closed Mondays

See all hours →


at Pier 15
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 528–4444

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The Learning Studio

the heart of research and development

photos of the learning studio

The Learning Studio is the developmental engine for The Tinkering Studio. It is a creative space for museum staff and visiting artists, scientists, and educators to conduct investigations. Inspired by design studios, artist ateliers, kindergarten classrooms, and tinkerers' garages, The Learning Studio is stocked with materials, tools, and technologies used to prototype Tinkering Studio activities and programs with museum visitors.

Through research residencies, professional development workshops, and field research projects, The Learning Studio supports a diverse array of explorations in art, science, and technology—explorations that emphasize the documentation and dissemination of thinking and learning.

Our Philosophy

The Tinkering Studio is based on a constructivist theory of learning which asserts that knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to learner, but actively constructed by the mind of the learner. Later, constructionism suggested that learners are more likely to develop new insights and understandings while actively engaged in making an external artifact. The Tinkering Studio supports the construction of knowledge within the context of building personally meaningful artifacts, such as marble machines or light paintings. We design opportunities for people to “think with their hands” in order to construct meaning and understanding.

The Tinkering Studio Design Principles
As our activities continue to evolve, so will our principles. The following design principles represent our current best understanding of our own work.

“Creativity is the type of learning process where teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.”

Activity Design
Thoughtful approaches to interacting with materials, tools, and technologies.
  • Activities and investigations build on visitors' prior interests and knowledge.
  • Materials and phenomena are evocative and invite inquiry.
  • STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education is a means, not an end in itself.
  • Multiple pathways are readily available.
  • Activities and investigations encourage learners to complexify thinking over time.
Environmental Design
Guides for the design and use of the studio setting.
  • Examples from past projects and current activities are situated to seed ideas and inspiration
  • Studio layout supports individual initiative and autonomy.
  • Activity adjacencies encourage the cross-pollination of ideas
  • Activity station design enables cross-talk and invites collaboration.
  • Principles that inform the interaction between staff and museum visitors.
  • The facilitation is welcoming and intended to spark interest.
  • Facilitators focus visitor attention, based on individual paths of understanding.
  • Facilitation should help to strengthen understanding by helping learners clarify their intentions through conversation.
arrow made out of string

Who We Are

The Tinkering Studio is a collection of artists, scientists, developers, educators, and facilitators who dabble in—and experiment with—lots of tools, materials, and technologies. Their findings frequently turn into exhibits at the Exploratorium, or into hands-on activities that allow visitors to get in on the tinkering fun.

History & Inspiration

The Tinkering Studio is the latest incarnation of a project that started in the year 2000 called the PIE (Playful and Inventive Explorations) Network, where MIT, the Exploratorium, and several other museums began to experiment with science and art activities using the Cricket (a small programmable device) and other new digital technologies. The PIE Network resulted in a number of innovative educational activities combining science, art, and technology.

In 2003, the Exploratorium led a new approach to professional development through the PIE Institute, which continued the work of the PIE Network by sharing PIE ideas with a larger audience of educators from museums and other kinds of informal learning environments.

In 2009, the Exploratorium started prototyping a new space on the exhibition floor called the Tinkering Studio to bring these activities to the general public.

“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.”

Our Work

Tinkering is a hands-on learning approach and way to develop understanding about the world. Learning through tinkering relies on direct experiences with real phenomena, things that learners can see and touch. The Tinkering Studio believes that tinkering experiences empower both learners and educators to develop an understanding of science processes and ideas, as well as their own potential as learners. We do this work in the following ways: