At the end of February, core team member Nico Staple traveled to San Francisco. A highlight of the week was a “field trip” to the Exploratorium, a hands-on museum of science, art, and human perception. A focus of the visit was the museum’s Tinkering Studio, best described by the sign at its entrance:

TINKERING

Think with Your Hands

Making things and developing ideas by hand helps us construct understanding. Slow down, settle in, and make something personally meaningful—from playful contraptions to surprising connections between mechanical systems and natural phenomena.

Inside are custom-made tables, space dividers constructed of poster tubes, stop-action animation stations, an enormous ball maze built with only toothpicks and glue, a dedicated workshop, and much more. One of the coolest items in the Tinkering Studio is a vending machine that dispenses an assortment of crafting supplies in quantities suitable for the everyday tinkerer. As the studio says in a blog post on the machine, “Tinkering is all about using what you have around and messing about with everyday materials, but for some projects, you need a special little bit of something that is hard to find.”

Nico and team were fortunate to get a special tour of the museum by Mike Petrich, Director of the Making Collaborative. Mike explained the philosophy of the Tinkering Studio and its role in encouraging visitors to slow down and transition from the chaos and the highly stimulating main exhibit floor to engage with ideas and materials personally and in a tactile way. This sentiment is echoed in this passage from the studio’s website:

The Tinkering Studio is based on a constructivist theory of learning which asserts that knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to learner, but actively constructed by the mind of the learner. Later, constructionism suggested that learners are more likely to develop new insights and understandings while actively engaged in making an external artifact.

This philosophy tracks well with the studio model we use in Ethics Lab classes, where students move fluidly back and forth between raw content assimilation and creating a tangible thing that is valuable in the real world.

The lab team drew great inspiration from the Exploratorium and is eager to continue tinkering back on campus!