Making and Tinkering in 4-H: Part II

This blog series on the Maker Movement was written by Steven Worker, 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology Education (SET) Coordinator at the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Steven coordinates the California 4-H SET Initiative, an effort to strengthen youth science education in the 4-H Youth Development Program. In this role, Worker manages professional and volunteer development for educators, coordinates program and curriculum development and evaluation, and resource development. Worker is a PhD candidate at the UC Davis School of Education studying (qualitative case study) the co-construction of design-based learning environments by youth and adult volunteers in out-of-school time. Follow Steven on Twitter at @sworkerpt.

It Looks Like Fun, but are Youth Learning?

This question often arises in relation to Making and tinkering when youth are visibility enjoying themselves and engaging in play. However, there really should not be an inherent contradiction between fun and learning. Making and tinkering have been recognized as practices that facilitate learning including fostering problem solving, improving engagement in STEM activities, improving initiative and intentionality, heightening creativity, and deepening understanding of STEM concepts.

While shop class, wood class, sewing, and other historical making was available in schools of years past, the push towards academic science, emphasis on abstract thinking, and budgetary constraints caused a decline in these opportunities in formal education in the second half of the 20th century. Making and tinkering have the potential to re-encourage these types of opportunities in schools and the community. 

An integrated framework was developed by researchers with San Francisco’s Exploratorium to describe learning happening in M&T programs.

Learning Dimension Indicators
Engagement Spending time in tinkering activities(play, make, explore, try something again)
Displaying motivation or investment through affect or behavior(youth show emotion, joy, pride, frustration and start new projects)
Initiative and Intentionality Setting one’s own goals
Seeking and responding to feedback
Persisting to achieve goals in the problem space
Taking intellectual risks or showing intellectual courage(youth disagree with each other’s strategies; try something but indicate a lack of confidence)
Social Scaffolding Requesting or offering help in solving problems
Inspiring new ideas or approaches(youth talk about others work, remix or modify ideas)
Physically connecting to others’ works
Development of Understanding Expressing a realization through affect or utterances
Offering explanation(s) for a strategy, tool, or outcome
Applying knowledge(increasing sophisticated work)
Striving to understanding(youth indicate not knowing yet remain to explore their confusion)

Relevant References

Bevan, B., Gutwill, J.P., Petrich, M., Wilkinson, K. (2014). Learning through STEM-rich tinkering: Findings from a jointly negotiated research project taken up in practice. Science Education, 99(1), 98-120.

Gutwill, J.P., Hido, N., & Sindorf, L. (2015). Research to practice: Observing learning in tinkering activities. Curator: The Museum Journal, 58(2), 151-168.

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