Our Latest Iteration on Linkages




Looking @ Linkages (cont'd)

“We LOVED the meet-up tonight! It was so fantastic to have the opportunity to tinker with other educators. We were just saying that we wish we had more time to play, built into our teaching schedule----we loved having the student mindset again. Even though we were only at the Exploratorium for a few hours, we left feeling very inspired. We can't wait to try linkages in the classroom now!" - Kristin



The development of new tinkering experiences is one of my favorite things about working in the Tinkering Studio. Trying out tentative ideas with a group of critical friends from BAME – Bay Area Maker Educators at the meet-up last night was over-the-top awesome!


A group of us gathered together for the last meet-up of the school year, both to celebrate that achievement and make stuff together. Earlier in the week we said goodbye to Noga Elhassid who had been an artist-in-residence with us for 2 weeks, developing this latest iteration on linkages. The idea we tried out with BAME was hatched just 2 days prior to the gathering; the paint was very wet on this one, but sharing an idea at that fragile state, while being a little scary, allows us to see and discuss its possibilities and constraints before we get too invested in the one particular way to approach it – this is an invaluable experience for designers of learning experiences.

We were looking at Linkages, a topic that on the surface seems to have universal universal appeal and is related to mechanical motions we see around us everyday. While I believe we all have some instinctive ideas about these concepts, it can be challenging to build those ideas into physical reality (in cardboard reality no less). The mechanisms can be deceptively complicated, serving as a precursor to even more sophisticated ideas about movement and systems.

One idea that surfaced while Noga was in residence was this apparent contradiction in our thinking over making vs tinkering. While I feel like some forms of making don’t involve tinkering, I am able to see value in trying to copy something someone had made when it comes to these linkages explorations.

Together as a group we have seemed to settle on the idea that making or copying designs in a way that doesn’t involve step-by-step directions is a beneficial way to explore them, but that’s the key – having the learner figure out what’s important about the mechanism by carefully examining it side-by-side with what they’re constructing. In this way, variation or mutations inevitably happen and often lead to further exploration and interesting outcomes. In our case, having a variety of examples to select from, led to variations and experimentation that wouldn’t have happened if we were working from a single project model. It was also quite striking to see how ideas grew in their complexity in almost every case; moving quickly from initial explorations into systemic thinking. 



While we may still look for ways to constrain the problem further in the Tinkering Studio when we try this with the general public next week, the wide open exploration that the BAME group undertook was inspiring to see. There were many unanticipated variations as people became interested and motivated to understand diverse ideas related to linkages. (show examples) We were surrounded by divergent solutions and as well as some serious dead-ends, but this is an authentic part of the tinkering process.  


At this point a lingering question I have is -- "How much do we need to constrain the activity, at least while people are getting starting on their path to learning about linkages?"

I think there is a real trick to finding the right balance of constrained enough to get you going, yet open enough to keep it compelling and allow for creativity to emerge. 


I’m looking forward to future development as we narrow in on more of our questions around this topic. If you have questions about what you see or suggestions for things we might try – let us know.



I started off with a quote from Kristin and end with a video showing her completed cardboard "Muppet" (complete with Groucho Marx eyebrows).  Thanks for sending it! I'm kicking myself for not shooting more video last night, since it brings the cardboard pieces to life in such a great way - If anyone else shot some, send it to me and I'll add it to the post.  

Lindsay, Rebecca & Mo made this 'Gazelle Eating a Blue Blossom' - using the pegboard to work out the movement of their creation proved pretty useful as the motion complexified over time.


Below are video clips showing pieces Noga brought with her; they were playing on the monitor as we started building.

Lastly, we've done 2 hangouts with our CoP (Community of Practice) specifically about Linkages in case you're interested, here are the recordings:

Hangout #1 Keith Braafladt and Joe Imholte from Science Museum of Minnesota / Noga Elhassid from Moving Toys Workshop / Trevor Taylor with the Oklahoma Museum Network / Lianna Kali from the Exploratorium

Hangout #2 Noga Elhassid, creator of the Moving Toys Workshop / Lianna Kali and Melissa Zabel from the Exploratorium / Andrew Milne and AJ Almaguer from Lawrence Hall of Science's Tech Hive / Gregory Louie from Immaculata Catholic School / Keith Braafladt from Science Museum of Minnesota / Jay Silver from Joy Labz / 





















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