For us, one common practice for developing activities for the Tinkering Studio is to take things that we've tried in professional development workshops and figure out how to make them run smoothly on the sometimes chaotic museum floor. However, in our last EU Tinkering workshop in Milan we had the opposite experience of taking our paper circuit activity developed for the floor of the Tinkering Studio to a more structured workshop environment with interesting results.
On the first day of the workshop we started with marble machines which is a really playful and fun introduction to tinkering. Then in the afternoon we introduced paper circuits as a alternative style of tinkering that's more individual, involves lots of troubleshooting, and is more directly related to scientific content knowledge of circuits.
On the museum floor, we have a much looser environment where people tend to join an activity because of personal interest and stay for as long as they want, which works well for the somewhat specialized activity of constructing with copper tape and LEDs. Because people are starting at all different times, it's easier for facilitators to work closely with those who are just getting started while spending less time with those who are already humming along with the activity.
Our plan for the workshop activity was to have an introduction where people first built a basic circuit using one large LED, copper tape and a battery. We thought this would help people get the concept quicker since we hadn't previously introduced the group to tinkering with circuits. We had surface mount LEDs, soldering irons, and some other inspirational examples available to encourage people to complexify their ideas after making the initial prototype. From our perspective during the activity it seemed like people were having fun with the ideas and many of the participants made innovative designs with complicated circuitry and artistic origami.
After each activity in a workshop, we lead a discussion sharing ideas from the group about how the activity felt as a learner and the implications for our work as educators and designers. For this paper circuit activity we had a particularly lively discussion. Several people in the workshop expressed frustration with the activity and questioned whether or not it should be considered "tinkering" in the context of our workshop. Especially compared to the openness of marble machines, participants pointed out how this activity allowed for less personal freedom and expression. As well some were dismayed about how the components either "worked" or "didn't work" through somewhat mysterious expressions of electrical phenomenon. With marble machines, participants liked how they could continuously create their own definitions of success and failure versus their perspective of the paper circuits where the LED turning on or off served as a outside indicator of completion.
In the conversation, some people pointed out the troubleshooting aspect of paper circuits and others brought up how the real life materials allowed them to really figure out something that they had just understood theoretically before. These are some of the aspects of the activity that we value and we see it as one piece of a diverse suite of tinkering experiences that can build on one another. But I think these ideas didn't come through strongly in the moment, and many participants continued to question if this activity really fit in with the rest of the projects over the course of the workshop.
After the workshop, the four of us facilitators debriefed the debrief (over delicious espresso) and tried to figure out what went awry with the activity and what we might try differently the next time. We acknowledged that we didn't have a lot of practice with paper circuits in a workshop setting and could adjust our introduction, the types of examples we include, and timing of the activity in the course of the workshop (maybe not directly after marble machines - our most open and playful experience).
As well, we thought about how to take advantage of some of the best qualities of the activity on the floor as a drop-in workshop. Maybe next time, instead of presenting paper circuits on it's own, we could try to create a more open exploration of several types of circuit activities. If we spent a few hours with circuit boards, scribbling machines, and paper circuits all set up around the room it might allow people to follow their personal interests and observe a wide range of ways to experiment with electricity.
Whatever we try for the next workshop, I thought this was a really great experiment to try paper circuits in this setting and we learned a lot about how much thought needs to go into the reverse process of transitioning a successful tinkering studio activity to fit into a PD workshop. It was great to learn from the experiences of the group and think deeply together about how we can best present a wide range of tinkering experience over a range of different formats, goals, and learning outcomes.