I want to attend Gever Tulley’s Tinkering School, a summer camp during which kids build things. Here’s his TED talk on the place:
It reminds me of what a former colleague said once about elementary school science class – at least what should happen in an elementary school science class: Mucking around. That students, with appropriate direction and coaching from a thoughtful teacher, should be given the time and space and materials to muck around.
I wish that happened more in schools – and not just in science class. I understand the pressure that many teachers feel – that they need to move through the curriculum at a certain pace, with only so many days to get through so many pages of a pacing guide or scope and sequence (a document that outlines what is taught and when it is taught during the school year). This pressure is particularly acute when the end-of-year standardized test looms.
But I know that mucking around happens: I have walked through many inquiry-focused classrooms that buzz with activity – even a healthy dose of chaos – and I can tell that a skillful teacher is in charge, one that has developed the right project for or with her charges, with the right questions for them to pursue (or develop themselves) and the right supports and structures, to ensure that students are challenged but never left to flounder.
I can bet that these teachers started teaching mucking around the very first day of class, developing in students the skills and habits of mind to make them good muckers; I bet too that these teachers had a plan on paper or in their heads on how to give their charges continually increasing responsibility for their own learning. Yes, mucking around happens, and it happens most effectively when careful planning undergirds it – planning that even allows for the detours. the dead ends, the U-turns, and the new back roads and towns discovered on the way.
So, I like to ask teachers: What are you doing day-to-day, week-to-week, to build the autonomy of your students? What are the steps you’re taking to turn them into independent learners? To teach them to revel in and be successful at mucking around?