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Let's Tinker

Written by Jeff Hudson
December 01, 2011

The following is reposted from

Some people tell me I talk about my own daughters too much.  I get that; I get my fill of self-absorbed “my-kids-are-perfect” parents at the soccer fields and swimming pools of our summers.  So I won’t post today about Jaycie or Jaelyn, but I do want to talk about Jaycie’s 5th grade teacher, Mr. Canada.  First, check out this video of their class:,0,5120021.story

What do you notice?  Maybe watch it again.  Write about it.  What do you notice?

Here are a couple of things I see: First, I noticed the space, the actual classroom.  You get a pretty good glimpse of it at the :17 mark and having been in the room a few times, I can tell you that glimpse hardly does it justice.  Mr.Canada’s classroom looks more like a workshop than a classroom.  Computer equipment and hacked radios and lamps, batteries and generators, light bulbs, solar panels, toy car parts, video cameras, you name it, lie scattered about.  There are no rows of desks facing front, no podium, no chalkboard – at least not one that isn’t covered in student work.  Not one at which students stare like the back wall of Plato’s cave.

I heard this:  “What started as a lesson in alternative energy turned into ten-year olds tinkering – turning everyday items into solar-powered fun.”  Tinkering, yes.  Kids in Mr.Canada’s class tinker.  They prototype, build models, test them, fail spectacularly and then try again.  They do this work collaboratively; they solve problems together. Jaycie (One kid story, sorry) and her partner’s car couldn’t overcome a rolling friction problem.  They scrapped their car and tried another until they solved the problem. They write about their results; share them, celebrate them. They challenge and question one another.

Each kid in the class has built and adds to a web page – web pages – one for each subject and then some.  The pages are a record of the kids’ learning.  Not just a record, the pages are yet another space for learning, for prototyping and writing and collaborating, for failing and trying again.

I have been sharing the story of Mr.Canada’s class with anyone who will listen.  Most are impressed with the work, surprised it’s the work of a fifth grade class.  Several wish theirs could be such a class but bemoan, “technology and I just don’t get along.”  And I guess that brings me to my point.  What Mr. Canada and his students are doing isn’t about technology.  What Mr. Canada has to teach us is not computers.  Canada’s class is a clinic in process pedagogy, in design thinking.  The work he asks of students, the work he does himself with students is grounded in a belief that we learn collaboratively, apprenticed to a skilled craftsman.  His class is grounded in a belief that learning is discursive – driven by language.  His is a class which understands we learn by trying, failing, and trying again.

When AHS again gets some precious time to talk and work with colleagues, I move we spend that time building solar-powered cars or writing fan fiction or re-designing our classrooms.  I suggest we write about what happens when we try out our cars.  Let us then talk about what building cars, writing fiction and designing classroom space has to do with teaching and standards and the future we envision for our students.