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Why Kids Need to Tinker to Learn

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The Maker Movement has inspired progressive educators to bring more hands-on learning and tinkering into classrooms, and educator Gary Stager would like to see formal schooling be influenced by the Maker Movement, which has inspired young learners to tinker, to learn by doing, and take agency for their learning.

One way teachers can incorporate the Maker Movement into the classroom is through project-based learning (PBL), and learning prompts should be “brief, ambiguous and immune to assessment,” Sager said at ISTE. “The best projects push up against the resistance of reality. They work or they don’t work.”

Kids simply need a supportive environment to tinker with an idea long enough to make it work, Stager said. They don’t need to be burdened by explaining which stage of the inquiry process they’re demonstrating. “We need to ask ourselves is there less we can do and more the kids can do?” Sager said.

[RELATED: Harvard Wants to Know: How Does Making Change Kids' Brain?]

Allowing kids to deeply engage with a project they are passionate about also helps produce more positive memories of school, Stager said. “The reason the Maker Movement is so exciting is it can re-energize the classroom and it can make high quality memories of education,” he said.


To make his point, Stager gave the example of the wily Super Awesome Sylvia. Stager said that when adults get out of the way and let kids shine, they produce amazing things, like “Sylvia’s Super Awesome Mini-Maker Show.” Sylvia’s only 11, but she’s already taken the world by storm by challenging herself with complicated projects in science, technology, engineering and math in her own fun and quirky way. She’s become an Internet phenom, and President Obama even invited her to the White House Science Fair.

Check out her video -- one of dozens of entertaining and informative episodes -- on making “squishy circuits.”