"Tinkering: A mindset. A playful way to approach and solve problems through direct experience, experimentation, and discovery." 

- Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager, Invent to Learn


What is tinkering?

"Tinkering is the essential art of composing and decomposing physical things to suit a variety of purposes - from practical to whimsical. Tinkering is both an manual and mental labor, perhaps even a labor of love. By the process of tinkering, we learn how to change and shape the world in small by significant ways and adapt it to our personal needs. While tinkering can use traditional techniques and materials, today it integrates digital technologies as well."
Dale Dougherty, Editor, Make Magazine
"Participating in tinkering enhances ones' sense of design and strengthens one's problem-solving skills. It lets one create a feeling for materials, their affordances, and how to work with them. And most importantly, it stimulates individual curiosity and personal inquiry. It leads to an endless supply of questions that can carry one through a lifetime of science, art, and awareness."
Rob Semper, Exec. Assoc. Director, Exploratorium

What does tinkering & making look like at Town?

Tinkering at Town School has two looks: 


In challenge-based inquiry, students have access to materials to fulfill an objective.  Sometimes techniques are demonstrated by the teacher. Sometimes students develop their own methods and these methods are shared with their peers. Sample objective include: building the tallest structure, inventing a model that represents a grabbing action, designing tools to perform the task of picking up or sorting materials, etc.


In open-ended inquiry, students are given specific materials that model actions similar to their current area of study. Students have a visual and tangible example of how certain actions operate, and can use this experience to enhance their knowledge of current topics. Sample models include, working with pumps to model the pumping of animal hearts, and working with different tools to represent the specialization of bird beaks. 


Sample Tinkering Topics


  • Skeleton puzzles
  • magnetic ball-and-stick kit (bones and joints)
  • pumps, & tubes (heart and circulatory system)

First Grade

  • exploring with different lenses (creating microscopes and telescopes)

Second Grade

  • Rube Goldberg machines (simple machines)