Tinkering (What should we teach, Part ii)

I had planned to write this post about the value of out-of-class education, but Pete Westwood, in his blog ‘A Wandering Mind’ (http://awanderingminddotcom.wordpress.com/) has posted a link, Tinkering School, which I highly recommend and which ties in with my theme of ‘What we should teach’.  In this TED talk the founder of the school, Gene Tulley, shows what can be achieved by young children if they are given the opportunity to use materials, tools and their own imagination if they are freed of the constraints of a formal curriculum or adult-defined goals.

As Pete writes, this sort of ‘tinkering’ is now a rare pastime for most children.   I suspect that this is largely because the increasing technological sophistication of our everyday lives has meant that most adults now spend little time ‘tinkering’ ourselves.  Many of our parents considered it normal to service the car, repair a bicycle, or build a woodshed, and we had the opportunity to watch and ‘help’, whereas today each of these things is more likely to be done professionally.  When modern technology fails it is not designed to be taken apart and fiddled with, but to be ditched and replaced.

Fortunately, if technology has created this problem, it also offers the solution.  Schools used to be the source of information and knowledge in a child’s life;  it was widely regarded as boring because there was no way of knowing which information or knowledge might be needed, so it all had to be learned.  The fun stuff happened outside of school.

However, just as technology has made possible the ‘just-in-time’ delivery chain used by modern industry, so it has also made it possible for information and knowledge to be accessed whenever and wherever needed.  This, potentially, frees up the school curriculum to focus more on those skills that we now know are at the heart of ‘real’ learning – the fun stuff that no longer happens at home!

The irony of this shown by the Waldkinder programme found in some schools around the world.  The details vary from place to place, but the key element remains the same:  Kindergarten children get to spend all or part of the school day in the woods and fields exploring and investigating the world around them.  This is just what four- and five-year-olds might have done in the past instead of going to school, but the important difference is the presence of a teacher who knows how to channel their curiosity and imagination into effective learning.

We live in an era when any one of us, including our students, can access any piece of information instantaneously on our ‘phone, so why do we still talk about traditional, content-heavy subjects as the ‘core’, as though subject content remained the most important element of education?  The need is no longer to know subject content, but to know how to find, select, modify, assemble and use that content to achieve a desired goal – exactly what students learn at Gene Tulley’s school.

2 thoughts on “Tinkering (What should we teach, Part ii)

  1. Another great post Michael. I love the Waldkinder plug 🙂 If coincidences exist, this is such a coincidence that you posted about the tinkering school and I happened to read your blog today. I just discovered Gene Tulley yesterday and downloaded his two Ted talks after Blair saw him mentioned in the book that I am reading at the moment called Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, by Daniel H. Pink. Of course I don’t think it was a coincidence, it’s inspiration! Thanks again Michael.

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