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The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Tinkering and Maker Education

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 16, 2012 at 3:26 pm

If you have been following my blog series on The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture, you know that I am using this opportunity, given all the press on flipped classroom, to discuss a model of teaching and learning based on experiential education.  It is a model in which authentic, often hands-on, experiences and student interests drive the learning process, and the videos, as they are being proposed in the flipped classroom discourse, support the learning rather than being central or at the core of learning.

The idea of experience being core to learning has been discussed by Dale Dougherty, the publisher of Make Magazine, in the context of Maker Education:

I see the power of engaging kids in science and technology through the practices of making and hands-on experiences, through tinkering and taking things apart. Schools seem to have forgotten that students learn best when they are engaged; in fact, the biggest problem in schools is boredom. Students sit passively, expected to absorb all the content that is thrown at them without much context. The context that’s missing is the real world.

Learning by doing was the distillation of the learning philosophy of John Dewey. He wrote: “The school must represent present life—life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground.”

Those involved in the maker movement have noted the problems with the type of learning occurring in the formal educational setting:

Formal education has become such a serious business, defined as success at abstract thinking and high-stakes testing, that thereʼs no time and no context for play. If play is what you do outside school, then that is where the real learning will take place and thatʼs where innovation and creativity will be found.

Our kids can be learning more efficiently—and as individuals. We imagine that schools can become places where students learn to identify their own challenges, solve new problems, motivate themselves to complete a project, engage in difficult tasks, work together, inspire others, and give advice and guidance to their peers. (Makerspace Playbook)

Initiatives such as the Tinkering School, Maker Education, and Expeditionary Learning are trying to change that.  My goal, in line with these initiatives, for proposing The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture is to honor a more natural and engaging process of learning.

A major purpose of maker education and the flipped classroom model based on tinkering is that it:

. . . exemplifies the kind of passion and personal motivation that inspires innovation. We can engage students as makers who learn how to use tools and processes to help them reach their own goals and realize their own ideas. (Makerspace Playbook)

This post describes how The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture can be used to support maker education and tinkering with the focus being on students acquiring more process-oriented “how-to” skills, skills needed to develop and enhance creativity and innovation.

The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture has four phases:

  1. Experiential Engagement: The Activity
  2. Concept Exploration: The What
  3. Meaning Making: The So What
  4. Demonstration: The Now What

This model has aspects and phases similar to Gever Tulley’s Brightworks Arc (used at his tinkering school).

Students explore ideas and pursue their interests through a structure we call an arc. Each arc takes as its premise a central theme, to be explored from multiple perspectives. Students interact with this theme in three different phases: exploration, expression, and exposition.

Experiential Engagement: The Activity

The cycle begins with students exploring the materials and the skills related to a topic of interest. They are provided with lots of tools, materials, and “stuff” to play with and explore. They are encouraged to just tinker.  Some suggested tinkering stations include:

  • Physics:  levers, locks, bicycle parts, machine parts
  • Music Creation:  musical instruments, objects that make sound
  • Art:  lots of art materials, paper, pens, markers, clay, paint
  • Writing: lots of different writing utensils, books making materials
  • Game Development: lots of board and card games, gaming devices with games
  • Robotics:  recycled items (to make robot prototypes), machine parts
  • Food: food items, cooking utensils, recipe books

(Note: These are just some basic suggestions to spark ideas. The station theme and materials should be decided by educator and students interests, budget, and desired outcomes.)

If a more structured or targeted outcome is desired, students can be asked to do one of the Make: Kids projects found at, the Tinkering Activities featured by the Exploratorium , or the Science Toy Maker. This still honors and emphasizes beginning the process with a making experience.

Whatever is decided, this introductory experience should have the following characteristics:

  • Consider the diverse interests and skill sets of your students
  • Make sure that the project you choose is open-ended enough to welcome all kinds learners
  • Build on the learnersʼ prior interests and knowledge.
  • Choose materials and phenomena to explore that are evocative and invite inquiry.
  • Provide multiple pathways, donʼt ask your students to adhere to rigid step-by-step instructions. (Makerspace Playbook)

The following video shows tinkering in action, a great example of what this phase should look like:

Concept Exploration: The What

This is where the use of videos, as proposed in the flipped classroom, is used.  The difference, though, is that the videos are selected and offered to the students once students identify their interests in the Experiential Engagement-tinkering phase as opposed to being selected prior to the lesson as typically occurs in traditional lessons.  In other words, through tinkering and making, they discover what they want to learn more about.  Once this is identified, the educator and other interested students find videos to support the learning.  The focus of these videos becomes on learning more of the how-tos.  Some video libraries and how-to websites that can be explored include:

While viewing the how-to resources, students can post thoughts, ideas, and questions via a collaborative online chat tools such as Google Docs, Primary Pad, or Wallwisher.

Meaning Making: The So What

During this phase, students synthesize and make meaning from their experiences and concept learnings from the previous phases.  It is a time for reflection.  Given the theme of making and tinkering, students can make meaning through:

  • Photo collages of key learnings
  • Mash-up videos from the How-To Videos
  • Use of Web 2.0 tools such as Wordle, VoiceThread, Imagechef, and others to showcase key concepts.

Demonstration and Application: The Now What

This is the phase where students demonstrate the expertise they achieved with their skill acquisitions. Students can be encouraged to showcase a project created and/or demonstrate a set of skills learned.

Students present their work in a public exposition. They demonstrate skill, express understanding, and explain the workings of their creations, receiving feedback and critique from their audience.

This can be done through:

  • Live or videotaped instructional videos, where students teach others the skills acquired.
  • A performance or demonstration to a live audience
  • A pitch for a new invention or process: the learner presents ideas for a new invention with the audience providing recommendations and positive feedback.

Here are some examples:

  • 4th Grader demonstrates the windmill he created after tinkering with and learning about robotics.

  • 3rd Grader talks about his creation from our from puppets to robots unit.

  • 5th grader combined her desire to learn t-shirt design with her love of reading.

  • Graduate Education students demonstrate and teach how they plan to integrate the arts into their classrooms.  The following demonstrations show scrapbooking and guitar playing.  They had the other graduate students in the class learning these skills:


  • Upper elementary students spent a few months exploring and tinkering with Web 2.0 Tools (I’ve written about this at Tinkering and Technological Imagination in Educational Technology).  As part of her demonstration, this student shows another student how to create a Voki.  They shared a laptop while the other students watched via an image project via the LCD projects:

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