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Brenda's Blog: Thinkering


Teachers Thinkering" With
Technology and Learning

Making new connections depends on knowing enough about something in the first place to provide a basis for thinking of other things to do -- of other questions to ask -- that demand more complex connections in order to make sense."
~ Eleanor Duckworth

Its Friday night in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, a time when local teachers have long since closed their classroom doors for the weekend. For a small band of educators from southern Alberta, however, the workday is just warming up. Gathered at a local hotel, those dozen or so social studies educators will engage in two weekends focused on Thinkering" about how they can use emerging technologies as tools that amplify and extend fundamental human capacities to observe, understand, and communicate about the world -- tools that give us rich data, help us manipulate and think about it, and connect us with others around it in new and powerful ways" (Tally, 2007, p. 308). Together, those teachers will participate in hands-on, minds-on professional development involving Web 2.0 mindtools.

Their exploration will go beyond the tools to the use of the tools in social studies (to borrow from Dr. Judy Harris).

We didnt call our work Thinkering when we first started this project, but after leading more than 50 Alberta teachers through the Alberta Education funded initiative, Thinkering seems a perfect word to describe what went on during these two weekend work bees." Thinkering, an imaginative semantic conjunction birthed within the library world, suggests that tinkering while thinking leads to Thinkering, a practice grounded in the research of Eleanor Duckworths.

According to Duckworth (a student of Piaget), beginning understanding combined with a place to experiment results in deeper questions and a chance to make more complex learning connections. Such learning organizations as Exploratorium have tapped into Thinkering in a big way, by designing learning spaces where kids can follow their own creative impulses, with a heavy dose of library, in the way that they provide/allow access to materials" (Gever Tully, 2007). Exploratorium is more than a fun place to hang out. Time spent at the Exploratorium provides students with Thinkering opportunities that help students develop:

  • Creative Thinking: developing intellectual independence and multiple perspectives
  • Systems Understanding: seeing meaningful relationships in complexity
  • Innovative Problem Solving: framing problems in unconventional ways and connecting ideas through lateral thinking
  • Information Management: knowing how to find, organize, and use resources
  • Interdisciplinary Teamwork: collaborating effectively across disciplines

Sounds like a list of very grown up competencies, doesnt it? Those very same competencies are needed by teachers assigned the very ambitious mandate to mediate the infusion of emerging technologies with teaching and learning in K-12 core curriculum. Could it be that Thinkering is an important learning pastime for teachers and students alike?


A great Thinkering model to watch is the ThinkeringSpace, a project that is envisioning a third space in libraries that engages kids in hands-on, heads-on, physical/virtual interplay and collaboration." Funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Initiative, ThinkeringSpace caught my eye because of its similarities to the professional development work Ive been doing with teachers in Alberta. Like the child-audience targeted in the ThinkeringSpace project, adult learners also need opportunities for hands-on, heads-on physical/virtual interplay, collaboration and lots of time to tinker in a supportive collaborative environment.

Based on what Ive observed, I believe that Thinkering could well be an emerging 21st century teacher skill set, a necessary part of a vibrant technology-supported learning space where open sharing and feedback is accessible to all learning stakeholders -- teachers, principals, and district leadership. Be forewarned though, Thinkering doesnt come cheap -- an essential component of Thinkering is time to experiment and collaborate, something educators have very little of, as dwindling professional development dollars and opportunities for time away from the classroom become a reality.


"When you share you will grow, get stronger, get deeper, gain courage, see yourself clearer, open up, feel vulnerable, face your inner fears, find friends, deepen in your journey, and have support for the rest of your journey. When we share the journey, we become better travelers."
~ Tom Morris

What would Thinkering look like in a school, a district, or an online professional learning space? John Seely Brown compares that space to an architectural studio, a place (face-to-face and/or virtual) where participants openly tinker together, witnessing one another's struggles, providing feedback, and then building on one another's discoveries.

John Seely Brown addressing the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (

The transference question for me is how might teacher leaders, administrators, and district folk embrace and support practices that involve regular, ongoing Thinkering; and how can their discoveries find life in the classroom? Teachers who are serious thinkers will be the ones we are waiting for -- innovators who will take the discoveries surrounding technology infusion and use them as catalysts for powerful teaching and learning transformation.


Tally, Bill (Center for Children and Technology). "Digital Technology and the End of Social Studies Education". Theory and Research in Social Education 35(2007): 302-321.