This is one in a series of blog posts about our current Tinkering Studio projects and initiatives shared at the Exploratorium's 2022 Trade Show.
Tinkering values community building, because we recognize that learning is relational, and one of the most important roles we can have is to change the relationship learners have with science, their fellow learners, and their inner worlds as belonging in science.
Tinkering Afterschool is a community program partnership between the Exploratorium and the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, in the form of weekly workshops in afterschool spaces of the Clubhouses for elementary-aged youth. It is also a program that develops and supports transitional age educators in pathways of mentorship, activity design, and reflection to iterate and build on a foundation of inclusivity and on expansive ways of designing for informal learning. The afterschool setting privileges us with both long and short arcs that youth spend with us on projects big and small, and to build relationships that strengthen over the course of months, sometimes years. We aim to refine our pedagogy through practice and reflection, iteration and improvisation. And we value the prior knowledge and experiences that youth bring, and base our approach on co-sharing and co-creating on knowledge. Tinkering Afterschool pays and employs young adult mentors/facilitators who are core contributors to the design, content, and ongoing relationships we build within the partnership.
Tinkering Afterschool Mantras
In the course of developing a long-term practice that spans several years of historical knowledge and accumulated wisdom, the facilitators and supporting staff have come up with certain phrases and “mantras” that help define the culture of Tinkering Afterschool, and help newcomers in times of frustration, doubt, or distraction.
These are distillations of the ways these mantras came to be within our program, and demonstrate the array and depth of thinking our young adult educators have brought humor and insight into the work:
Burning is Learning: Over the years it has felt like an inevitability that someone somewhere at some time would experience the wrath of the tip of a hot glue gun or hold fear around the first time holding a soldering iron in our workshop spaces. Rather than referring to this level of risk as a deterrent to tool use or to projects that demand them, we've found instead that building a culture that prioritizes agency — and holds reverence for the level of readiness youth bring to figuring out equipment and managing risk — is key to supporting a trajectory of curiosity and growth. We always aim to prevent injury and tool misuse but understand that both can be crucial aspects of sense-making.
Off-Task Amazing: Though we present each of our projects with a variety of entry points and prompts meant to stoke investigation and curiosity before construction begins, sometimes youth need to internalize and engage with materials or concepts in their own ways before being able to conjure a vision or creation. As facilitators, taking a step back with patience and trust while an "off-task" exploration unfolds can sometimes reveal a pathway back to the project. When this happens, we consider it an amazing expression of the flexibility that a tinkering pedagogy can hold.
XTech Superpower: XTech was a sister program to Tinkering Afterschool that was held in Exploratorium spaces and often involved scaled-up versions of our projects because of the availability of equipment and staff that are not as easy to include as we travel to Clubhouse spaces of the Boys & Girls Clubs. This Superpower refers to a milestone moment in which a participant's journey as a tinkerer manifests itself through the way they communicate and share with others. This can mean being able to talk about a project or steps around making that informs other youth or facilitators of the embedded ideas or intentions. It can also mean being able to reflect what is needed from others for their project to advance to a next level. It can also mean being able to enjoy conversation and co-existence as projects develop and come to fruition!
Tinkering Afterschool is a chance to practice thinking expansively and creatively about many aspects of an inclusive and equitable educational practice. These are some of the ideas we interrogate regularly:
Projects: What counts as a project within a radically inclusive practice?
Dynamics: Who holds an identity as "expert," "teacher," adult," "learner," etc.?
What is learning? How do we wield current and emergent understandings of learning and process?
How children occupy spaces of learning: How do experiences elsewhere shape our interaction with tools and materials, or with the process of discovery or construction?
How to be in partnership with youth: How do we also tinker with the ways we relate to one another, to provide support and stoke creativity in our whole selves and each other?