TINKERING WITH LEARNING: TOYS AS LEARNING OBJECTS
IIT Kanpur (INDIA)
About this paper:
Conference name: 8th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2016
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Abstract:This action research explores the pedagogical potential of the natural inclination of children to tinker with objects to design an intuitive self-learning tool. Such an emphasis on ‘doing’ resonates with a long tradition of educational models- from John Dewey’s progressivism to Piaget’s constructivism and Seymour Papert’s constructionism that exemplifies an experiential, problem-based approach to learning. While it is well established that tinkering promotes developmental skills like creativity, critical thinking, logical reasoning, problem solving, and spatial awareness, thus far, it has only been studied from a constructionist point of view. The constructionist episteme on which they are grounded, supports tinkering but also pushes the child to reconstruct prior knowledge by manipulating materials into known meaningful products. Here, the child is externally motivated or tutored for construction.
On the other hand, the natural inclination of curious children to peep, open, crawl, scratch, twiddle, fiddle, break objects or employ them in contexts that tests their fatigue limit, makes them inherently bricoleurs. Bricoleurs approach problem-solving by reflecting upon their work materials, engaging into a dialogue rather than a monologue. This is not to undermine the significance of precedence-based-knowledge, tutoring or formal learning environments, but to indicate the dormant potential of the natural tinkering process of children to learn while dismantling or de-constructing, rather than assembling or constructing material for learning. We have coined this kind of intuitive, self-driven, de-construction based tendency- ‘natural tinkering’. We argue that this innate, habitual tinkering is more intuitive as compared to its constructivist counterpart, and can act as a powerful pull-based, self-paced, iterative, and autonomous learning tool for children.
While differentiating between de-constructive versus destructive tendencies, we argue that the well-worked out constructionist tinkering process of creating-testing-revising-adapting is different from that of the natural tinkering process. In the study, the natural tinkering process of dismantling and deconstructing was triggered by externally visible features/actions of the toy which arose curiosity; thus embarking a phase of playful interaction. Peeping and twiddling with the object persuaded the tinkerer to adopt an objective for his interactions. Empowered with an objective, the tinkerer was encouraged to open and observe the parts and mechanisms of the toy. It is then, that the tinkerer consciously grasped the ‘problem’ and interacted with the internal elements to comprehend their role in the ‘functioning’ of the toy. Learning, at this stage was an iterative process intermingled with trial-and-error. Having comprehended the ‘working’ of the toy, the tinkerer now felt confident of plunging into newer operations. Using the ‘learned’ mechanism for an alternate purpose, adding other found parts to existing mechanism, or designing a completely new meaning are just some of the innovations that we observed. After the toy and its innards were completely dismantled, and the last screw lay bare open, the tinkerer was left with the final task of ordering them all into their initial positions. By then, the tinkerer had mastered the mechanism on his own.
Keywords: Tinkering, Learning, Learning tool.