Week 2: What is the link between “tinkering”, “hard play”, and “growth mindset”?

These terms are related.  According to Martinez and Stager , “Tinkering is a mindset – a playful way to approach and solve problems through direct experience, experimentation, and discovery. ”  I suppose it doesn’t take some researchers to define this term, but it makes it legitimate.  It was interesting to learn that there is a Tinkering School!  Founded by Gever Tulley in California.  According to Tulley, “It’s a summer program which aims to help kids learn how to build the things that they think of. So we build a lot of things, and I do put power tools into the hands of second-graders. So if you’re thinking about sending your kid to Tinkering School, they do come back bruised, scraped and bloody.”  This was said in a TED Talk.  It invoked laughter from the audience.  The title of the talk is 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do.  The main point of talk was that our society and schools have made our children’s world too safe, to the point of not being able to tinker and learn.  We have to put warnings on plastic wrappings so children don’t suffocate.  Put warning labels on paper cups that the contents are hot.  And make toys large enough to not swallow, otherwise we need to put a warning label stating there is a choking hazard.  By the way, the five things kids should do is play with fire, own a pocketknife, throw a spear, deconstruct appliances, and drive a car.  They all have their reasons for being on the list.  He is working on a book that describes 50 dangerous things kids should do.  I do have to admit that in all my years in school, I have done more tinkering outside of the academic realm than in it.  It makes sense to utilize this technique more often if we want kids to learn.

According to Carol Dweck, growth mindset is where people can understand that their abilities can be developed.  (Dweck, 2014)  She discusses that our schools need to change the way we praise children.  “First of all, we can praise wisely, not praising intelligence or talent. That has failed. Don’t do that anymore. But praising the process that kids engage in: their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their improvement. This process praise creates kids who are hardy and resilient.”  She goes on to state that this type of praise creates success and equality.  Students from different socioeconomic groups can now be just as successful as others.

I have to admit that I don’t recall reading about “hard play”, but I can assume that it describes how people engage in a tinkering session and is so immersed that they are said to be in “hard play”.  That’s how I would define it!

I suppose the one resource that really resonated with me is Carol Dweck’s TED Talk.  When I think about growth mindset and fixed mindset, I was wondering how do you foster growth mindset?  She stated it clearly, praise wisely.  Too many times we praise talent and intelligence.  If you don’t possess these characteristics, you are a failure.  She talked about a “not yet” grade as well.  It is a indication that a student is in the process of attaining the knowledge, and is developing it, but is not failing.  I am involved in a youth softball team that my daughter is on and I heard a disheartening comment one of the team members said to the others.  They stated, “This is your first time playing softball this year?  You’re so good!  I’ve been playing for 5 years and I suck.”  I told her that she shouldn’t say that.  They all play good.  I told them if you have a low view of yourself, you will reflect that on the field.  If they have a positive “can do” attitude, they will be successful.  I hope she took it to heart.

For the first time in 13 years(since I have been here), our high school is not having an awards assembly.  It’s a 2-3 hour affair that, of course, recognizes achievement and academic talent.  I asked several students about their reaction.  Some of them stated that it was okay because it seems the same 20-30 kids in school get the awards. I suppose we foster an environment of fixed mindset.  I hope we can change that.


Martinez, Sylvia Libow; Stager, Gary S.. Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom (Kindle Locations 842-843). Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. Kindle Edition.

Dweck, C. (2014, November). Carol Dweck : The power of believing that you can improve . Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en

Tulley, G. (2007, March). Gever Tulley : 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do . Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_on_5_dangerous_things_for_kids

One thought on “Week 2: What is the link between “tinkering”, “hard play”, and “growth mindset”?

  1. You are so right on the safety thing. The school I teach at was built in the 70’s and some people are hoarders. This means that I have a lot of stuff in my classroom that has been there for years. I am slowly sorting through it and have thrown out so much stuff. I have found so much glassware but chemistry can’t be taught anymore. Chemistry used to be taught out in village schools, but now can’t be taught without adequate facilities. Same with physics. These safety concerns are real, but at what point does it stop? When can kids be kids even if there is some danger? The real world does not have safety precautions everywhere. This is a huge limiting factor in terms of tinkering. Could policy be changed so that not everything has to be as safe as possible?

    I definitely think you have a good point on the awards ceremonies as well. We are only praising the top students. But what should be done becomes the next question? Should we eliminate the awards ceremonies? Should every student get an award? There are positives and drawbacks to both.


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