What is Tinkering?

shadow rapunzel noun

  1. The definition of a tinker is a person who can make minor repairs, an unskilled worker or a clumsy worker.
    1. A gypsy is an example of a tinker.
    2. A repairman is an example of a tinker.


  1. To tinker is defined as to play around with something, or to try to change or fix it.

    When you play around with the controls on the dishwasher to try to make the dishwasher work better and you end up messing it up, this is an example of a situation where you tinker with the dishwasher.

* from http://www.yourdictionary.com/


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What does this have to do with education and innovation? There is a movement gaining recent attention, that sets up learning as a place to make (construct), hack (deconstruct), design, experiment, question, explore, discover through hands on experiences. You have likely heard of the International STEM conference coming to Saskatoon in the fall 2015 – science, technology, engineering and math integrated into innovative projects. There are many activities for students and some free events – check it out. There is a parallel movement to add the arts to the equation and make it STEAM.

steam vs stem


What are the habits of thinking we see in both the arts studio and the science lab?

  • ability to envision or imagine that which was not there before
  • connecting unlike ideas/concepts or qualities into new combinations with surprising results
  • see problems as an opportunity to discover
  • persist through failure, re/vision and redirect focus
  • curiosity about the world and asking “what if …?”
  • following notions down the rabbit hole into new territory
  • playing

To tinker implies a sense of non-urgency. Freedom to see what happens. Or what does not happen. Do we value the time to play with an idea? Can we justify this approach within a faced paced classroom, in the pursuit of meeting outcomes (not to mention assessing the outcome? Is it possible to do both?

child desk bike
Community Health article 

In an attempt to let children exercise and move while learning, this class has given them pedals under the desk. It helps them self regulate. (Hmmm. Looks like hamster wheels to me.)

We have become so disconnected from our bodies that “learning by doing and moving” is confused with “moving as I learn”. They are not the same thing at all. I am firm supporter of the self-regulation movement as it help children become self aware and to take control of the behaviour, often providing much needed relief throughout the day and they are able to become more successful. However, allowing all children (not just those with identified needs) to get on the floor, or move outside, with tools in their hands, to learn by doing with purpose, impacts the neurological development and learning for everyone.

I think it’s time to tinker with learning.

Why Kids Need to Tinker to Learn

STEM + Art: A Brilliant Combination

How will this make music?
How will this make music?
Where do shadows come from?
Where do shadows come from?
May 7, 2015Permalink

The Opposite of Play

The opposite of “play” is not “work” … it’s depression.

What happens if we were to paint our dance with our feet instead of brushes?

A friend recently sent me this quote because, as anyone who knows me knows, I am always playing, talking about the importance of play and encouraging others to play. I bring it up in meetings, it’s built into my agendas for PD, play is always modelled in my work in the classroom and I spend time reading scholarly articles on play (yes, scholars write about playing!*). It is not uncommon for me to be caught dancing while waiting for my photocopying to be finished. I doodle, fold, tape, tear paper at meetings. I question how things are done and ask silly things. Sometimes I ask inappropriate things. People might laugh – and I notice when laughter enters the room that the mood changes, people sit differently in their chairs, they even begin to breathe differently. I really appreciate working in an environment where I can be free to operate in this way, and in a school division that values play, imagination, curiosity, problem solving and inquiry.

Clown hydrant
What do you see? A vandalized hydrant? Or … a clown in disguise?
Feeding my Creative Disposition
Feeding my Creative Disposition

Arts & Learning teacher leaders are developing examples of Inquiry in the Arts units to be published and shared online. Inquiry is being done into: how artists think and create; how manipulation leads to problem solving through building/constructing;  why traditions influence our contemporary world; and how light and dark create meaning through shadows. These are deep explorations for young people but our goal is to develop a process that builds curiosity and confidence to find the solutions as they play with ideas and materials.

As teachers, we are also playing with ideas and asking lots of questions as we work in our collaborative space:

Does the inquiry process look different in the Arts than it does in ELA or Social Studies? (Should it?)
What constitutes research?
Do we value play as research?
Does it change your perception if you substitute “experiment” for “play”?

Hmmm, what does this indicate about our perceptions of the word play and if we can take it seriously? Can play be work? Can you work hard at playing? Is this only allowed/accepted in Early Years education?


PreK teachers build a world from found objects.
PreK teachers build a world from found objects.

ORFF 4Improvisation and Learning by Playing
Recently, Jackie Kroczynski (NBCHS teacher and band leader) led a workshop for teachers on Orff and Jazz improvisation that had us singing, clapping, dancing and playing instruments. Those of us who cannot read music were able to create music that sounded quite beautiful – this was empowering for me and built my musical confidence greatly. Did I struggle and work at it? You bet! But I was playing and experimenting with sound, listening to others and layering in melody and rhythm. It was a wonderful example of inquiry based learning as we were given tools and allowed to problem solve, research, be curious and figure it out by doing. We were encouraged to use one another as shared experts in the room. As I reflected on the process I realized I was self regulating throughout, doing self talk, deep listening and improving by trial and error. I made lots of mistakes! And that was just fine. The experience left me wanting to know more, keep trying, delve deeper and to try again. Seems like a fine approach to learning for me.

ORFF workshop ( Short video of teachers at work, I mean play.)

* Articles on the Importance of Playing:

Tinkering is Serious Play, ASCD, Jan 2015

Why is Play Important?,  J.P. Isenberg| M. R. Jalongo, 2014

Play in Education: the Role and Importance of Creative Education, The Guardian 2013

Research Papers: Importance of Play, Waldorf Research Educators Network

January 19, 2015Permalink

Living Learning

Chitek Lake Camp
Chitek Lake Camp

Walking in Two Worlds

Land Based Learning:
What happens to learning when you remove distractions of our modern life: beeping phones, incoming messages, tv/media overload, buzzing fluorescent lights, school bells, schedules and the never ending cacophony of voices? How much time will it take to regulate/to meditate, sitting in silence, observing nature and begin to wonder about the world? What will I learn about myself ‘living and contributing’ in a challenging environment? How do I benefit from both ancient and new technologies in the wilderness? How is learning from an elder different from learning in the classroom? These are some of the questions students and teachers were pondering during their land based learning camp at Chitek Lake May 26 – 29, 2014.

Josh shows us his catch of the day.
Josh shows us his catch of the day.

Grade 9 students from Cando and Leoville recently survived a week in a bi-cultural wilderness camp learning through inquiry based projects, working side by side with their teachers, elders and resource people as they explored, questioned, reflected and created on the land. Working together to problem solve in authentic situations (such as figuring out how to set up your canvas tent in the rain) brings out leadership qualities and cooperation skills. Tipis teachings, making tea and salad from plants foraged in the forest, building traditional shelters, carving bows, making fire, observing through the camera lens, beading, fishing, hunting, storytelling, playing games and making music – all forms of inquiry and writing happening at once.  Designing their learning and letting curiosity lead them forward, questions answered by elders and experts, guiding them on to the next piece of understanding. Finding an internal rhythm and flow, responding to the sun and rain, hunger and need to play – all done without benefit of bells.

Just in time learning
‘Side by side & just in time’ learning
New friendships formed
New friendships formed

Covering curriculum is challenging and I have heard many teachers say that there just isn’t enough time in the schedule to give inquiry it’s due attention … and yet teachers agree that learning needs to be student driven, challenging, interest based and authentic. What a conundrum. How to balance requirements of the Ministry with requirements of good learning? Every teacher is faced with professional choices about instruction and educational practice. I have seen many innovative and brave teachers who make some bold choices about programming when designing the learning. I appreciate that Living Sky School Division encourages innovative teaching and supported Cando and Leoville on this journey of discovery. Listening to teachers and students reflect on the learning reinforces our beliefs about “learning for all” in a differentiated process, that recognizes the place of wonder in education.

Flora and Fauna
Flora and Fauna

Thank you to Tammy Riel and Amanda Wood (Cando) and Baeu Vandale and Irene Bowker (Leoville) for their tremendous effort in making this camp happen.  Thank you for inviting my participation – it was a wonderful learning experience!

June 11, 2014Permalink

Boys Won’t Dance

Dancing with grade 8
Dancing with grade 8

“Boys won’t dance. Girls might, but my male students would never do that program.”

I have heard this statement on several occasions and I have to say that the evidence is to the contrary. Not only are the boys willing to dance, they are eager to jump, roll, bounce, slide and pirouette across the floor. They have energy to spare and revel in the chance to move and use their bodies to express their ideas. Cooped up in desks, keeping limbs contained, sitting up straight, holding a pen …. all necessary to learning in school; however, so is interacting in groups, skipping, holding hands, using space, memorizing patterns and creating new ways to express a story. Dance is one way to stimulate curiosity, engage the kinesthetic learner, and to differentiate your learning. Students need to take risks, learn to reach out to others, co-operate and collaborate – dance is one such avenue.

Looking at dance examples helps open the mind to the possibilities of form, technique and cultural traditions. Consider bringing in a guest dancer to your school to learn from their specific expertise and skills, (if you need assistance with that be sure to give me a call or email to help). As well there are many examples of dance available online, suitable to view in the classroom to assist with the outcomes dealing with the critical/responsive and the cultural/historical goals.

Dancing with ballet master, Jamie Vargas
Dancing with ballet master, Jamie Vargas

Dance Resources

“Inspiring Movement” is our LSKY dance website with tons of lessons, units and video to help in the classroom and get everyone dancing:  #://learning.lskysd.ca/danceeducation

LIVE Arts “Dance Across Living Sky”, is a special partnership with Dance Saskatchewan and LIVE Arts to feature dance in 3 schools, grade 4 – 9. The workshops ended with a LIVE broadcast you can watch on their website and a teacher’s guide with activities for each grade.
Special thank you to Kerri Daken at McKitrick School (grade 4 and 5), Crystal Gilbert at UCHS (grade 7 and 8) and Heather Cardin at Maymont School (grade 6 and 9). Go to #://liveartsaskatchewan.com  There are many programs available, all grades and all arts disciplines.

Focus for dance inquiry project.
Focus for dance inquiry project.
Expressive movement
Expressive movement
March 24, 2014Permalink

Arts Alive in the Classroom

by Sherron Burns

Creative thinking – in terms of idea creativity – is not a mystical talent. It is a skill that can be practised and nurtured. – Edward de Bono

arts alive new logo

Reading Symbols and Big Ideas:
A Big Idea in Arts Education is that the arts are a language of expression that incorporates symbols and metaphor. Thank you to Chris Kent, arts educator at McLurg High School in Wilkie, for designing this great new logo. The symbols for the four arts strands are quite abstract and open to interpretation. What do they mean to you? How might students interpret the symbols? There are some great resources available to support your teaching in this particular area:

The LSKY Arts & Learning Committee has spent a lot of time thinking about the big ideas and ways to approach outcomes, assessing the learning for each. You can find the complete work – both video and unit pdf’s – on the online Ministry curriculum site for Teacher Resources. Congratulations to our teacher leaders, your work is recognized by the province and our division: Kali Weber, Chris Kent, Jackie Kroczynski, Sarah Ficko, Kelly Waters, Shannon MacFarlane and Crystal Gilbert.

 LIVE Arts is a free Sask program that brings artists into your classroom via broadcasts. To see the whole schedule and to register your class visit the LIVE Arts website.  Puppeteer, Tamara Unroe is presenting Shadow Play in Unity Nov. 6th & 7th for grades 5 – 8 if you’d like to tune in.

Tamara Unroe Shadow Puppet

Overview: This session will give students the opportunity to participate in a live broadcast with visual artist/ dumpster diver/ shadow puppeteer Tamara Unroe. They will explore visually and metaphorically the dynamics, of light and shadow. They will build a shadow puppet, and learn to manipulate it in an improv style.
Ask the ARTISTYou can connect with the artist during the broadcast through a virtual classroom, go to: http://connect.edonline.sk.ca/liveartsed/

Lots of exciting teaching and learning going on our classrooms including teacher research into engagement/writing/arts, visiting artist programs and collaborations. If you have an idea, or would like some support, please be in touch.


November 4, 2013Permalink