Our public space give us the chance to introduce tools and techniques to museum visitors as they engage in the process of making personally meaningful artifacts. As we highlight the tinkering tenets for the national week of making, I wanted to write about soldering workshop as an example for “embrace your tools”.
The topics of soldering workshops that we’ve found to be successful like paper circuits and LED tiaras are playful and incorporate elements of art. They take into account the learners interest and give a reason for learning how to use the tool.
Soldering irons can be seen as an intimidating for lots of kids and I’ve noticed that young visitors are often apprehensive to get started. We always are careful to spend time in the beginning explaining how solder works (like glue for metal), which parts of the iron you can touch, and some general safety tips. I think it’s important to both be serious about the fact that it’s a real (and potentially dangerous) tool but also that we trust kids in the workshop to take it seriously.
As a facilitator, after the initial explanation, I spend a lot of time watching kids to see if they’re getting comfortable with the tool. It’s important to be attentive but not overbearing as kids figure out the technique.
Over the course of the project I’ve noticed kids becoming more and more fluent with the soldering iron. When they first get started they are usually tentative with the iron, unsure about how to hold the solder or where to melt the metal. But after fifteen or twenty minutes you can see the difference feel more confident, are enjoying the process and reevaluate their abilities and interests.
These are quick interactions on the museum floor that I can see having a long-lasting effect on some participants. A soldering iron is a pretty accessible tool, not too expensive and easy to set up in a small space, but it opens up such a wide range of projects and possibilities.
I feel that in contrast to a very step-by-step instruction focused on completing a circuit board project, activities where people define their own goals and take time to build their own understanding of a tool’s parts and purposes allow for a deeper relationship with the process. When we say “embrace your tools”, this starts from the beginning, providing opportunities for people to get introduced to tools in a friendly, approachable and generative way.