Tinkering in the Flipped Classroom

Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D. has proposed a new learning structure that puts tinkering front and center in 'The Flipped Classroom'

As adults, we often learn by tinkering. It’s how we manage to assemble an IKEA bookcase after we’ve lost the directions, how we discover the best shortcuts when we move to a new city and how culinary masterpieces like the chocolate bacon bar are born. It’s all through tinkering, exploring and experimenting that we acquire these new skills in our adult lives. So when it comes to formal education for our children, and even the flipped classroom, why are we tossing tinkering aside?

There’s no single answer to why we don’t give tinkering a larger role in education, but perhaps the simplest is this — we just don’t know how — yet. Luckily, plenty of innovative educators are hoping to change that. One of them, Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D., has proposed a new learning structure that gives tinkering a rightful place inside the flipped classroom. She describes her approach like this, “It is a model in which authentic, often hands-on, experiences and student interests drive the learning process, and the videos, as they are being proposed in the flipped classroom discourse, support the learning rather than being central or at the core of learning.”

The Flipped Classroom

Gerstein’s model, which she’s titled The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture, consists of four connected phases:

1. Experiential Engagement: The Activity. In this phase, students are provided with materials. They’re encouraged to explore, play and tinker. The available supplies should welcome all kinds of learners and allow students to experiment and discover their differing interests.

2. Concept Exploration: The What. This phase uses at-home videos to broaden student knowledge. In most flipped classroom models, videos are chosen by the educator before the lesson begins. In this model, videos are selected after students have had time to tinker and identify the aspects of the project that they find most exciting.

3. Meaning Making: The So What. After exploring their interests and learning more through educational videos, students are asked to sort through the information they’ve encountered and to organize it in a way that clarifies what they’ve learned. They can accomplish this task through video mash-ups, collages, or by using online tools like Wordle.

4. Demonstration: The Now What. Now armed with new knowledge and experience, students demonstrate what they’ve learned to the class. Given the diverse pathways offered to children through this model, the demonstrations will take unique shapes and offer students yet another opportunity to learn something new — this time from their classmates.

Is Gerstein’s structure the only way tinkering can be incorporated into a curriculum? Certainly not, but it is a great model for how educators can bring tinkering into the flipped classroom. It’s clear that this system emphasizes engagement and minimizes the amount of in-classroom time spent lecturing or teaching “at” students. More than that, it allows for students to be more active participants in choosing what they’ll learn based on their interests. It’s easy to assume that if more children are offered the opportunity to learn the lessons and skills they find exciting, more of them will become active learners, and fewer students will fall through the gap.

Of course, we can’t help but think of all the hands-on projects in the Spark Network that could easily fit into a model like this one — projects like the Children’s Innovation Project from the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, which encourages children to remix and “hack” electric circuitry components, or Cubelets — interlocking building-blocks which students can connect to create functioning robots. These, and many other Spark network projects, can help give tinkering a larger role in education, both in and out of the classroom. We’re excited to follow Jackie Gerstein’s work and to continue watching the flipped classroom discussion unfold. If you’d like to add your voice to the dialog, tell us where you think tinkering belongs in education by tweeting your thoughts to @SparkPgh.

Published June 26, 2012