How can we make learning interesting and engaging for a child? The answer is a tinkering lab or T-lab that uses STEAM OR STEM education to aid a child’s learning. STEAM brings different concepts, usually taught under different subjects, under one umbrella and emphasizes the application of knowledge to real-life situations. The following article is based on my experience of working in a tinkering lab in Madhya Pradesh.
This lab has three teams– The Bank Team, The Planning/Idea Team, and the Materials Team. In the lab there is no external authority; it is a free space and children are themselves the authority here. Elections are conducted among the members to elect team leaders and then members are selected for each team. Post-election, respective team members start their work in the lab.
The first step is for students to ideate. What would they like to do? What would they like to learn about? Once they have the idea and a plan on how to execute the idea, they can share this with the Idea Team. The Idea Team goes through the idea and the proposed plan of action and if they feel it is workable, they write down the names of the groups/students, the idea the group is going to work on and the dates in which the group proposes to complete the project on a planning board. Once this happens the students can go to the Bank Team.
To execute their ideas, students can take a loan (fake currency of T-lab) from the Bank Team, which they have to, of course, repay by the end of their project. Once they have the money, the students can go to the Materials Team.
The main role of the Materials Team is to manage the resources and ensure that materials that may be necessary for members to complete their projects are always available in the lab. This team is also responsible for the pricing of each material available with them.
Design and presentation of the project
After students buy the materials required to build their projects from the Materials Team, they can work together in the lab to finish their projects. Once completed, each group has to showcase their project. The projects are then auctioned. The price of the projects depends on how well they are made and presented. The money that the students receive from the auction is then used by them to repay the loan they borrowed. Any profit they make stays with them for future use.
How children learn at the T-Lab
So how does making and building things help children learn different subjects? Let’s take a look.
- Right at the beginning since teams have to buy materials to make their projects, there is calculation involved.
- There is geometry and measurement involved when making the projects as students have to consider shapes of their models and measure the dimensions of the cardboard, thermocol or other materials they are using. This will help develop a sense of two-dimensional and three dimensional shapes and figures. Cutting sheets of papers, etc., helps develop skills in fractions.
When students start making their projects or experiments, they start digging, inquiring, and understanding the science behind how things work. For instance, if a group is building a wind mill, they learn about its design, how a motor makes the blades move, how electricity is generated and where the generated electricity can be stored.
Technology and engineering
From the windmill example above, we can see how students are introduced to engineering and technology. Students get to try their hands at chip designing, use breadboards, understand the role of resistance, and application of machines.
To make their models, projects, appealing and presentable, students use art and colours. This helps them learn about paints, textures of colours, shading, clay, paper craft, hand paintings, etc.
In the process of electing team leaders and members, students learn about elections and responsibilities. Group work also promotes peer to peer learning, and students start involving each other. They learn to respect each other’s emotions and in this way they develop social skills that will go a long way in making them better human beings.
Teachers as facilitators
In the T-Lab, a teacher is a facilitator and not an instructor. It is not the teacher’s job to tell the students what they can and cannot do. It is up to the students to find out for themselves. For instance, if they want to make a toy car, the students will start with the basic understanding they already have—that a car has four wheels, a base called chassis, a motor, a battery, etc. If the students face any difficulty in the process of making the car and seek the teacher’s help, then the teacher steps in to help them resolve the problem or find solutions. In the T-Lab, the teacher allows students to work and understand at their own pace.
T-Labs help fill in the gaps in understanding that a regular classroom may not be able to. Working in T-Labs will help students connect the dots and at the same time make the process of learning joyful.
Demystifying Science through Toys” by Arvind Gupta.
HoltJ.C., & Meier, D.(2017). How children learn FifitethAnniversary edition. Boston, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a Subsidiary of Hachetter Book Group, Inc.
School for My Child by Pramod Maithil, published by Partridge India in 2015
Holt, JC. (1974). Escape from childhood. New York: E.P. Dutton. Chicago (Author-Date, 15thed.) Holt, John Caldwell. 1974.
The author has experience of more than six years in the field of education. Currently he is working as assistant professor and STEAMS practitioner. It was his desire to create a learning space for children to think and work freely that led him learn and practice STEAMS education under the guidance of Pramod Maithil, founder Prakriti Initiatives. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.