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The Joys of Tinkering…and what we can all learn from it

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To tinker is to seek answers. To be creative. To learn.  And to not fear making a mistake. It doesn’t really feel like the way the real world operates, which emphasizes perfection and the right answer. But in science, innovations are often the result of different theories that are shared and melded together.

This is what the National Taiwan Science Educations Centre’s Tinkering Workshop is all about.  The Museum has long promoted tinkering and maker education, and since 2015, with the cooperation of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, it has developed a series of hands-on activities to enhance those educational efforts. Most recently, it partnered with Acoustiguide Asia to develop the Tinkering Journey Sketchbook app.

How does it work? At the Museum, visitors start with real life materials (yarn, markers, glue, plywood)—whatever catches their eye--  and once they’ve decided what they’re interested in, they document it on the app. A friendly animal avatar (you get to pick your favorite!) takes you through a design process. Once your real life creation is finished, you snap pictures of it, add comment bubbles to explain your learning process and document what worked and what didn’t.

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Working this way creates an unusual environment of concentration, cooperation and creativity. What makes the app particularly cool is that you can share your results with other via social media and a questionnaire, and others can share theirs with you. It becomes a living testament of the joy, pride and frustration that goes hand-in-hand with creation… and the unexpected results that happen when you share your outcomes with your fellow tinkerers. 

Here’s a preview of the app.

In recent conversations with clients—and at museum conferences—we’ve noticed an uptick in wariness toward the one-size-fits-allness of apps. These days, museums, theatres and film experiences are all thinking about how to use technology as a complement to a real-life experience, not as a replacement.  This is precisely what the Tinkering Journey Sketchbook app succeeds in doing. In 2018, the American Alliance of Museums MUSE award committee agreed, awarding it with an Honorable Mention, saying, “It helps to develop core thinking skills related to the engineering design process.”

The director of the National Taiwan Science Education Centre, Chen Hsuch-Yu, said this about the project: “Tinkering Journey Sketchbook holds the spirit of Tinkering education. It never gives the only answer but creates an environment which encourages the participants to find their own solutions. It also achieves the goal of integrating hands-on workshops with technical devices and at the same time, maintaining the balance between intuitive user experiences and the beauty of interface design.”

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