Tinkering + Hard Play + The Growth Mindset = Learner centered, owned, and directed learning

In gaining a better understanding of constructionism this last week, it became clear to me that the traditional school system would need to evolve or adapt new systems and policies for students to benefit from a constructionist approach.  Not only that, teachers need a school infrastructure that supports them to integrate new pedagogies; teachers need time, resources, tools, and training, but they also need growth opportunities to try and test these new concepts and strategies.  Constructionism seems an obvious theoretical foundation for tinkering, hard play, and the growth mindset, and all three have a place in the classroom, if teachers are able to integrate these ideas and strategies to make learning even more learner-centered, learner-owned, and learner-directed.

It should be a teacher’s goal for students to become independent thinkers and have the confidence to follow their instincts and explore their curiosities.  A teacher who encourages and supports tinkering, allows students to arrive at an understanding and build knowledge, based on their own thought-process and experience “figuring it out”.  It’s not a trial period, where students attempt to solve a problem on their own and then return to the teacher for the “right” answer, but an authentic journey to find meaning and gain understanding that will lead to a solution.  By allowing students to test their ideas, we can support them to build the confidence needed to take ownership over their learning (Martinez & Stager, 2013).

Hard play can be an effective way to support tinkering; by presenting an authentic challenge or problem that is engaging, we demonstrate to students that learning is fun and can be experienced in a personally meaningful way.  This focus on the student and their process and experience of learning and problem solving rather than the specific result or answer as an end goal, leads us to the growth mindset.  Rather than being focused on a grade to measure their level of intelligence, students are trained to build their skills and develop a better understanding of how they learn (Mindset Works, Inc., 2012).

It is incredibly discouraging for students to be labeled or categorized and to not have others expect valuable contributions from them; at the same time, even positive labels can sometimes lead students to only identify with that recognition and cease to pursue other things.  Teachers can instead, acknowledge characteristics that have been specifically demonstrated and guide students to establish their own identity as a learner based on what students themselves value and have experienced.  Research on the growth mindset (Mindset Works, Inc., 2012) has shown that:

  • intelligence can be developed and students can be trained to adopt a growth mindset,
  • students are more motivated to learn, make effort, and outperform others without the same mindset,
  • students increased self-perception and narrowed gender and racial achievement gaps, and
  • students improve their behavior, achievement levels, and begin to demonstrate resiliency in dealing with challenges

Tinkering, hard play, and the growth mindset are ideas and strategies that are focused on the learners.  They allow learners to self-direct their learning and take ownership over the process and products of their learning.  Learners can create their own learning identities and improve their abilities, but also have the freedom to grow and evolve through the process.  As a teacher, it would be difficult to support and integrate these ideas and strategies, if one isn’t first engaging in them.  We can do this by modeling to students that learning is a lifelong process and a (growth) mindset that develops, shifts, and evolves with various experiences (with tinkering and hard play).

Watch this short TED talk about The Tinkering School and the value of an experience in “fooling around”:

I wish I was going to Tinkering School this summer, but this course is a pretty good second choice! 🙂


Martinez, S. L. and Stager, G. S. (2013-05-10). Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom (Kindle). Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. Kindle Edition.

Mindset Works, Inc.  (2012).  The Science: The Growth Mindset.  Retrieved from:  https://www.mindsetworks.com/webnav/whatismindset.aspx

Tulley, G.  (2009).  Life lessons through tinkering.  [Video].  TED Conferences, LLC.  Retrieved from:  http://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_s_tinkering_school_in_action

3 thoughts on “Tinkering + Hard Play + The Growth Mindset = Learner centered, owned, and directed learning

  1. Thanks for sharing the TED talk. Tulley shared some important statements. Here are my take aways from the video:

    students learn projects may not turn out as planned
    kids learn that projects go awry
    projects start from doodles and sketches
    hands on
    instructors acting as collaborators to help ensure projects are completed
    “failures are celebrated and analyzed”
    “problems become puzzles”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love your title especially the “learner centered, owned and directed learning” part. You brought up several good points about the traditional school system not be conducive to the constructionist approach and I agree. I really like how you pointed out that “teachers need time, resources, tools, and training but they also need growth opportunities to try and test these new concepts and strategies.” I am sure my district is no different than any other district – we have training and in-services but then we have no time to really try them out. You also made an important comment about labels both positive and negative and how they can impact students. As teachers we really need to be careful about labels we form and convey to students without even realizing it. I want to go to tinkering school too! I like Alli’s list of takeaways from the TedTalk.


  3. Teachers would need support, time, resources, tools, and training to integrate new pedagogies. These are things that we already do not have enough of!

    In my research I came across Dr. Christine Carter. She describes Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset as nature vs. nurture. A Fixed Mindset develops when we are always told things like, oh you are so smart or your are genius. Things like that naturally come out of our mouths. Our success is being praised rather than nurturing and praising the effort it takes to get there. I also came across The Tinkering School TED talk. It does look like great fun. That is the way kids use to play.


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