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Art of Tinkering Reflections Part 1

Art of Tinkering Reflections Part 1

Participants in the Art of Tinkering Workshop explore light and shadows.

Hi everyone, I’m Michael, the newest member of the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio. I’m from Australia and I have a background in silversmithing, jewellery manufacturing, and education. I just finished up a Masters in Learning Design & Technology and I’m thrilled to be joining the Tinkering Team as a Museum Educator. Recently I participated in the Tinkering Studio’s Art of Tinkering Workshop. It’s the best onboarding experience I’ve ever had. 

Over the next three weeks, I want to share some of my takeaways from the three day workshop. Hopefully these blog posts will allow me to share some insights and resources, and they serve as a way for me to reflect on my own learning experience.


Morning conversations were a great time to get to know each other and share ideas.

In this post I’m going to provide an overview of the experience and share my thoughts on the variety of activities that we took part in. Next week, I’ll look at the power of peers, highlighting the value of collaborating with the amazing participants in the workshop. Finally I’ll conclude this three part series focusing on what might be the most valuable component of the experience - reflection.

If anything I share is of interest to you, please feel free to reach out -


Let’s jump in!

The three day Art of Tinkering Workshop is a professional development experience that is “designed to support educators develop a practice and ethos of a tinkering pedagogy”. Across the workshop we engaged in six hands-on tinkering activities, met 19 fellow tinkerers from around the world, and reflected on our experiences to realise what we learnt.


Light Play creations on display.

There was a huge variety in the tinkering activities that we participated in. Some were large, like Marble Machines, others were more intimate, like Light Play. In some I tapped into my prior knowledge of certain concepts, while others encouraged me to innovate with new materials. Throughout all of the activities there was a clear intention to play and discover, and through that, learn.

The six activities included:

  1. Marble Machines
  2. Circuit Boards
  3. Homemade Switches
  4. Toy Dissection
  5. Light Play
  6. Chain Reactions


The variety in scale between the Marble Machine activity and Light Play activity created different learning experiences for participants.

One thing that stood out to me was the variety across the activities. In particular, the variety in scale is something that we discussed during the workshop. The physical affordances of a Marble Machine in comparison to the intimacy of the Light Play activity resulted in very different experiences. In all of our tinkering activities we worked in pairs or trios. This teamwork added to the experience (something I’ll talk about next week) and also highlighted the different interactions that can occur at different scales.

Partners communicate during the Toy Dissection, collaborating to discover the inner workings of their toy.

I found it fascinating to experience the impact of scale on the activity. In the more intimate activities, like Light Play and Toy Dissection, I found myself talking a lot more. I was far more aware when I was doing something or holding something because it usually meant that my partner was not physically participating in the activity at that moment - we had to take turns. In these activities I verbally shared my ideas and talked aloud so that we both knew what was going on as the activity progressed.

In the larger activities, like Marble Machines and Chain Reactions, I still found myself communicating with my partner however it was communication at a different scale. Because there was so much more space for us to occupy, and therefore more room for us to fill, I realised that we tended to talk about the overall goals we had. We discussed what we wanted to happen, and then shared what we wanted to do as individuals to achieve that shared goal. We were able to work more independently and take ownership of certain parts of the activity. That being said, there was still deeper, specific communication when it was required. We problem solved together when things weren’t working, and we always checked in as plans inevitably changed.

This is just one example of the impact of scale that I experienced during the Art of Tinkering Workshop but I think it’s a really important one. While all the participants took on the role of learners throughout the workshop, many of us also identify as educators. In every activity I reflected on what it was like to be a learner and what added to my learning experience. The variety in scale and the resultant variety in teamwork and communication was a valuable learning experience for me and something that I will take with me as I contribute to the design for future learning experiences.

Two teams partner to create one large Marble Machine!