Jul / 19
01 Jul / 19
Computational Tinkering is an initiative aimed at supporting learners to combine making and coding in ways that support collaboration, playfulness, independent problem solving, and open ended exploration.
Earlier this month we(*) hosted a hands-on workshop at the ECSITE conference (European network of Science Centers) to explore coding combined with simple and complex physical contraptions and outputs - programmable creatures, visualizations of mathematical equations, shadow theaters, and more. During this workshop our group of 28 educators spent a full day collaboratively tinkering and constructing with code in the digital world as well as with materials in the real world. We started with engaging in computational thinking and tinkering processes as learners and then discussed the merits of the tinkering approach to learning about computational concepts.
We treated ourselves to a range of activities that span the physical and digital world including a deep dive and reflection about a tinkering activity we call "Programable Pets".
We invited everyone to imagine and create an interactive story involving their virtual pet using the Scratch coding platform, cardboard and everyday craft materials. Each story comes to life as learners interact with their pets with the help of the affordable micro:bit controller. Over more than 2 hours participants grabbled with concepts of computation such as sequencing, modularization, threads and conditional statements, while also learning and teaching each other about the Scratch coding environment. Each group found the tinkering project they designed for themselves to be challenging but also full of rewarding discoveries in both the digital coding world and the world of making with physical materials.
After taking time to share and celebrate the wide range of projects and emerging ideas including the dream of the pink turtle, the kissing booth, and a love story between a hedge hog and a crab, we wanted to know what the unique and essential qualities of this "computational tinkering" approach were. Many reflections pointed to the power of projects (and learning goals) evolving driven by the tinkering process and an active exploration of physical materials as well as code.
To capture the feel of the shared learning experience, we collected everyone's impressions in a word cloud. Core qualities of good tinkering experiences, such as collaboration, creative problem solving, iteration, and of course playfulness were all part of the mix.
The day continued with a smattering of computational tinkering experiences
- a mathematical visualization activity including math tattoos developed by collaborators at Imaginary, Berlin.
Who knew equations could be beautiful! Just spent the afternoon playing with Surfer from @imaginary_math at the #ecsitemakers pre-conference :) @dharohar_udr try it out and share what you make. pic.twitter.com/pjqL2QoC5f— Shivani Singhal (@shivani_singhal) June 5, 2019
- programmable light and shadow installations developed by The LEGO Idea Studio and The Tinkering Studio
- open-ended coding for servos and inputs for micro:bit controllers developed at Visindasmidjan University
A big idea that emerged during our final discussion was that tinkering can make computational thinking approachable and inclusive for learners of all backgrounds, meeting their different interests and building on their personal experience. We saw how open-ended activity design allows everyone to follow their own ideas, pose their own challenges, and through that create personally meaningful projects that they feel a deep sense of ownership over.
We left the workshop excited to bring what we learned into our different contexts and develop more experiences that involve computational ideas especially with a low threshold to entry and open-endedness in mind.
More on how to get creative with Scratch and micro:bit
Our Learning Framework
(*) we - a group of educators who are passionate about constructionist learning and computational tinkering:
- Martin Swift - Visindasmidjan
- Kathrin Unterleitner, Sebastian Uribe - Imaginary
- Ryan Jenkins - Wonderful Idea Co.
- Carmelo Presicce - Lifelong Kindergarten
- Liam Nilsen - Lego Idea Studio
- Sebastian Martin - The Tinkering Studio
This work was supported by a grant from Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation