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Tinkering Afterschool & State of the Exploratorium

Tinkering Afterschool & State of the Exploratorium

The Tinkering Afterschool program was invited by the organizers of the recent virtual State of the Exploratorium gala event (shoutout to the wonderful folks of the Institutional Advancement team) to share some insights and information about the program, its values, and how our practices have shifted to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how we continue to build around equity and inclusion. Our aim in collaborating with them to bring more visibility to our work and the program partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco was to share our reflections and successes of these last couple years with shelter-in-place, and to provide a view into our program formats that we hope resonate and connect with the field’s increasing efforts to think around identity and the role it plays in learning and creativity.

Our team of facilitators are young people who bring vast insight to their work, and their viewpoints compose much of the video and the direction of the overall program in so many ways. This is because they, like our student participants, bring with them experiences of school and student life, hobbies, interests, and cultural and family backgrounds that have profound impact on the ways projects come to life or take shape. Because of this, our facilitators are uniquely positioned as “near peer mentors” and we’re privileged to be able to build on their meditations of being participants in the Exploratorium's programs and on the realities of being a young person in the modern world. 

Shortly after our team began meeting in-person for the first time since shelter-in-place began, and to prepare for our summer semester with the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, we filmed interviews where we shared our thoughts and recollections on the things that matter to us. The final edited piece was shared online alongside explorations of other work from the last year - the STARS program and the Stories of Change exhibition and mural from Gallery One - and is below for you to enjoy and hopefully gain some insight into how we approach co-creation with young learners. Below the video are some additional ideas from the team on the role that identity and play has in their work as mentors and activity designers. 



What purpose does play have in your facilitation? 

Adriano: “I believe that play is a crucial aspect of Tinkering, a defining characteristic that allows Tinkering to [be] more than a simple science class. A student’s schedule is typically broken down into two categories, playtime and studying. However, the play within Tinkering is a mixture of the student’s schedule, in other words whenever a student is “playing” in tinkering, they are actively learning and engaging in a new discovery while enjoying said discovery. Moreover, the lessons learned through Tinkering are lifelong lessons that can be applied through the student’s future.  For example, one of the most important lessons that most students take away is critical thinking, especially when the students are constantly working on their project, they are constantly in a mode of critical thinking, asserting the projects and concepts they are working with and how to constantly improve on it.”

Heath: “It’s good to have a conversation around media and video games. I’ve talked to students about the games they play more in person. Its a little bit trickier online. When Wai-Kirn made a couple of things with Pac-Man. It helps build better relationships with students. And rapport. Games have had a positive impact. Games provide a prompt that relationships can build off of. Hardest part of building rapport is getting the conversation started. Party games can mediate these relationships. This is important because in general we have to work as a team and it’s easier to bring up opinions when we work and have this rapport.” 

What role does identity play in tinkering? 

Calista: “Identity plays an important role in my approach toward tinkering. A lot of my projects are inspired from different aspects of my identity, e.g., something I learned in class, from a TikTok I watched the other day, or even a TV show/song I’m currently into at the moment. When working with students, I like to direct “identity-priming” questions to get a sense of what they like and build off of that. And the good thing is, most of the time, the answers to these questions are already available to us, outside of facilitation time with the students.”

Adriano: “Identity is what defines your project in tinkering. Depending on your identity, your project can take different directions and show different types of results. In would not be too wrong to say that tinkering is built over identity, mainly since the projects are so open ended in the direction you can take. Moreover, these projects are also influenced by the identities that worked on them, where each individual background and understand of the topic can have a major influence on the project.”