A moment that got me excited about Cranky Contraptions, a new tinkering activity, was when one of our visitors set his own goals during a recent prototyping session. As we design tinkering activities we typically set up a sand box or play field for participants and we love to see them come up with unique ideas within that play field.
After 30 minutes of tinkering and building a dragon automaton, Henry (name changed to protect visitor's privacy), one of our visitors, shared an idea that he had come up with with me. His idea was unique from any example we had provided as inspiration. He had a very clear vision not only of what he wanted to do, but also how he wanted to do it. Here is a video of him describing his design after he finished the first part of his build.
It wasn't possible to finish the project within the time he had left, but that didn’t matter at all. We started with the project keeping in mind that he could finish at home.
Our interaction started with Henry asking me how we could put a big hole into the top of his wooden block. I told him that we could get a drill and do it, and said that I was curious to hear what he needed the hole for. He explained that he wanted to feed a string through the block to add wings to his dragon that could be pulled up by a mechanism and then fall down again pulled by a weight (washer).
As he described this to me in more detail, he realized that the hole would have to go around a corner (from the top of the block to the side). He suggested drilling diagonally through the block. I told him that I had success achieving the same by drilling two holes at a 90 degree angle and he agreed on that design.
Henry then learned to use our power drill and to his and my surprise we managed to put two holes in the block without damaging the contraption he had already build.
He managed to pull a pipe cleaner through and went on to make the wings and figure out more details as he continued to add to his project.
It's always special when we get to see visitors defining their own goals, deeply engaged with the activity, and grappling with problems in a profound way. What I like most is when they become the expert and driver of the exploration and I as a facilitator become a co-learner.