Learning through Tinkering: A Formal Study of Informal Learning


Harvard researchers are teaming up with Oakland, CA schools to study how children learn through through the process of making things

Called Project Zero, the study aims to test the theory that “kids learn best when they’re actively engaged in designing and creating projects to explore concepts, ” reports MindShift. “It’s closely aligned with the idea of design thinking and the Maker Movement that’s quickly taking shape in progressive education circles.”

Harvard gives teachers in the program specific activities to incorporate into their existing lessons.  Post lesson, teachers provide feedback on classroom behavior and other observations.

“Schools have been really open to this,”  Jennifer Ryan, the Project Zero coordinator told MindShift.  “It’s not a lesson plan; it’s not a curriculum; it’s a way to look at the world.”

Getting schools and teachers to look at the world through the eyes of experiential learners puts education in a whole new light. Instead of evaluating student work  based on the usual academic criteria, “teachers are encouraged to take more time examining the work and the mind that created it before coming to a judgment. ”

Through our LI4E Community STEM program, we’ve seen firsthand the outcomes of engaging students in higher level learning through basic tinkering.   Making things is fun!  It’s also frustrating sometimes, and difficult and challenging. But with supportive guidance,  the simple act of creating something also creates enduring learning, internalizing through hands on application things that would otherwise be abstract text book theory.

It’s probably fair to say that not just kids, but people of all ages, “learn best when they’re actively engaged in designing and creating.”

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