Maker classroom: Hold the space for ideas to marinate

I want you to imagine you are a student in my classroom.

What if I posed a question or gave you a provocation.  Got you to wonder about the world or think about problems you encounter in your daily life.  The one thing I want you to avoid is coming up with a solution.

Now this exchange would not happen that quickly and it couldn’t.  You would need time to think, time to wonder and time to get into something.

brainstorming-provocations-tinkeringMaking things and tinkering with ideas can be a powerful learning experience but one of the biggest learning curves for me as an educator putting this into practise was the use of time.

Tinkering with ideas takes time. Support the time and mental space needed for ideas marinate and grow rather than contract too quickly

It was a mind shift for me, I had been used to (and taught to) plan the day for my students. But I needed to change this and shift to an ‘in the moment’ teaching style. This was most important at the beginning of projects when students were problem hunting and empathy mapping. The default setting for most if us is to identify a problem and match it with a solution quickly then move to action it. Not often do we open the space to ponder possibles. My challenge was to support my students to do this.
I began testing a wide range of activities that students in the class could choose to take part in or work by themselves/in a small groups, discovering the more we sat in this unknown phase the better and deeper the students ideas became.  It was not easy and very different to the linear learning most students are often accustomed to.

I discovered that my main role as a facilitator in this stage was to just hold the silence when needed, encourage conversations when stalled and initiate small group chats – the most successful were done at random.  As I moved through this beginning stage across 4 classes (one each day) the more I appreciated being ‘in the moment’.  What worked with one group didn’t with others; what some needed, others didn’t.  It felt responsive and also gave a sense of community as ideas were shared and freely given rather than selected and tightly held onto as ‘my idea’.  It also set up the foundation of feedback loops that became vital to their individual maker projects.

Tinkering takes time.  And not just hands on tinkering but tinkering with ideas – the really important beginning part. Support the time and space needed for ideas to marinate and grow rather than contract too quickly.

Tinkering as a form of playful learning uses generative thinking processes.  Students need the space to loop between divergent and convergent thinking modes – which can be frustrating. Really frustrating for all involved.  I often found students would come up with one idea and be stuck solely on wanting to do that before exploring options.  But this is part of tinkering, being comfortable navigating between stuck and unstuck.

So let them think and think hard. Only when students want to figure something out will it happen and only when they need to learn something will they keep trying until they get it.

I don’t have the solutions other than as a facilitator in the room having an awareness of what this unknown space feels like, being empathic to my students but also not easing on this very important part of the Maker/learner experience.