Making and Tinkering in 4-H: Part III

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.

#3 Pedagogical Practices of Making and Tinkering

Pedagogical practices of making and tinkering share many similarities with 4-H. These include an emphasis on experiential and inquiry-based learning, which may be one reason branding 4-H programs as Maker is appealing. What 4-H, and the broader science education literature, may contribute to Maker Education is decades of research in youth development and design-based learning. Principles of youth development will be familiar to most 4-H professionals. Less well known is design-based learning (DBL), one approach to project-based learning.

DBL is a pedagogical approach that emphasizes planning, designing, and making shareable artifacts. DBL extends inquiry-based science learning with frequent opportunities for reflection and metacognition in the design process; enhanced motivation with application of learning to real world problems; promoting questioning through multiple iterations of design, testing, and failure; and creation of shareable artifacts serving as external representations of knowledge.

Effective educator roles when facilitating M&T or DBL programs include:

  • Providing ample open time for youth to “mess about” and explore objects, think with materials, and learn through trial-and-error. The open-ended approach promotes a materials engineering perspective, which Dorothy Bennett and Peggy Monahan (in their chapter in the 2013 book Growing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators) describe as promoting materials literacy, helping children become comfortable with exploring object affordances, reusability, and repurposeability.
  • Facilitate group discussions (called “reflection” or “sharing, processing, and generalizing” in experiential learning models) around young people’s design process and decisions, the ideas they generated, and what they need to learn to move forward.

In addition, my own dissertation research on 4-H volunteer educator pedagogy in a tinkering context suggests that the most effective allocation of time (for learning) is between open design & build time where the educator asks open-ended questions and offers design suggestions but does not “swoop” in to fix or modify the object themselves (thus limiting opportunities for youth to learn); and group sharing and reflection where youth share their artifact and receive feedback from peers and the adult.

Relevant References

Barron, B.J.S., Schwartz, D.L., Vye, N.J., Moore, A., Petrosino, A., Zech, L., Bransford, J.D. (1998). Doing with understanding: Lessons from research on problem- and project-based learning, Journal of the Learning Sciences, 7(3-4), 271-311.

Fortus, D., Dershimer, R.C., Krajcik, J., Marx, R.W., Mamlok-Naaman, R. (2004). Design-based science and student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(10), 1081-1110.

Kafai, Y.B. (2006). Constructionism. In R.K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of The Learning Sciences (pp. 35-46). Cambridge University Press.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: The Perseus Books Group.

Puente, S.M.G., van Eijck, M., & Jochems, W. (2012). A sampled literature review of design-based learning approaches: A search for key characteristics. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 23(3), 717-732.

Roth, W-M. (1996). Art and artifact of children’s designing: A situated cognition perspective. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 5(2), 129-166.


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