Tinkering with tools and tikkun olam

Tinkering with tools and tikkun olam
  • Inside the Classroom
Eric Einstein

Growing up, I rode my bike around my neighborhood, searching for discarded appliances, toys, equipment, and broken furniture. Our garage and backyard became building zones for my tinkering, creation spaces for my ideas. I feel lucky that my parents supported this kind of learning (and that I didn’t get tetanus!), recycling wood and other materials to build backyard playgrounds and treehouses and “fixing” electronics (that sometimes weren’t broken until I took them apart.) 

When I started at Denver JDS in August of 2015, one of our first meetings was to discuss uses for Multipurpose room A, a space that wasn’t being used to its full potential. We interviewed colleagues, brainstormed, and iterated our ideas. Eventually we presented our idea for an open space for exploration and creative learning based on “making.” Three years later, the vision has become reality. 

This fall, with generous support from many sources, including Rose Community Foundation, we opened our creation spaces at Denver JDS. Children are born curious; it’s our job as teachers and parents to channel their curiosity and provide a framework for exploration. We do this by giving students voice, fostering investigation of their interests, and providing spaces for authentic learning. Our creation spaces provide a place for students’ curiosity to flourish.

The physical spaces these occupy in the Lower and Upper Divisions have been completely transformed into a tinkerer’s paradise, and outfitted with hand tools, sewing machines, digital paper cutters, 3-D printers and pens, a laser cutter, and so much more! These tools and resources are the media through which students in the Lower and Upper Divisions can engage in hands-on learning. 

Since the start of the school year, every grade level at Denver JDS has engaged in at least one project or process using the creation space facilities for curiosity-driven learning and creating. Whether modeling Israeli geography, examining history through 3-D artifacts, learning coding techniques, or creating games by digitizing everyday objects, we collaborate with the students and teachers to design learning opportunities. 

While the students love all the cool stuff they create using these machines and tools, the real learning happens during their design and planning process. Even more important than the products they make are the process of iterative thinking and the mindset of innovation they develop. As they work to understand the intricacies of technology, the students do not take it for granted as much. They become much more technology savvy as they shift from users to creators. 

This kind of learning, in an environment that supports creating, tinkering, and making mistakes, encourages the development of creative problem solving skills and builds confidence. When students learn to “figure it out” in school, they are better equipped as they move on in their educational journey. The skills and confidence they gain by fixing things in our new creative spaces will better prepare our students to take on leadership roles in fixing the world (tikkun olam).

Eric Einstein is the Lower Division Director of Technology and K-12 Creation Space Coordinator at Denver Jewish Day School, where he models problem solving and encourages curiosity, exploration, and innovation. Mr Einstein is a 2011 graduate of Colorado College and grew up in Toronto, Canada, where he attended magnet arts schools. You’ll often find him discovering the world through his camera lens, and exploring the outdoors with his dog Kiwi, rock climbing, or running marathons.

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