Making is often referred to as activities with some sort of learning goal. This can happen in a variety of ways and researchers see that, in terms of STEAM learning, making results in students learning the principles underlying these curricular areas. Tinkering, as a constructivist activity focussed on STEAM concepts, is a type of activity that engaged in exploring existing artifacts. Learning from a functioning, or recently functioning, object allows students to develop new knowledge.
When I think about tinkering I imagine the student who just can’t keep from trying every switch or, upon discovering the magic of the screw driver, takes apart every bit of furniture in the room. This is the space of exploration where people mess around with ideas, objects, and materials. They think about how things work. When I consider myself to be tinkering my hands are busy and I am learning by doing something. It is a time where I have slowed down. Whimsy or curiosity may set in and either may lead to an inquiry that spawns multiple ideas.
Ideas are difficult to document as an outside observer. Educators must follow student learning and wait for revelations to be articulated by the person tinkering. There are no directions. Instead of following a recipe to make a delicious dish you are tossing in likely looking ingredients, tasting some, feeling others, sniffing, and listening. Tinkering means you have given over permission to goof around with something and see what happens. Questions will emerge but you do not have an expected outcome.
Occasionally, after taking apart an object or an idea, tinkerers reconstruct whatever they were working with. This may be returning to the original configuration or coming up with something unique. Either way, tinkering is an open ended exploration with a prompt – whether it is a physical object to dismantle or a concept to interrogate – we all tinker.