Have Lab, Will Tinker: Portable lab to bring joys of tinkering to TRSU schools

By Cynthia Prairie
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Afterschool program director Venissa White had shared the Tinker Lab concept at a recent meeting of the TRSU school boards.

Afterschool program director Venissa White had shared the Tinker Lab concept at a recent meeting of the TRSU school boards.

Come Sept. 1, Venissa White hopes to be ready to travel around the elementary schools of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union with her portable Tinker Lab, introducing kids to the thrill that discovery, exploration and working with your hands can bring.

Tinker Lab is a relatively recent movement that traversed museum walls and migrated into homes and schools to help children experience and grow at their own pace.

Using a portion of a Tarrant Foundation grant given to Cavendish Elementary, White, the After-School Program director for TRSU, is contracting with a manufacturer in Maine to build a complex yet lightweight set of six portable walls that can be transported from school to school. The wall panels can configured together in a variety of ways to  establish functional creative spaces complete with work benches, storage cabinets, electrical outlets and vertical peg boards that can be built upon.

Illustration of the wall units from White's presentation. Click photo to enlarge.

Illustration of the wall units from White’s presentation. Click photo to enlarge.

“The panels of the walls are like a bookshelf. They are on wheels and would connect together in various ways,” says White, adding that the panels would be hollow, making them fairly lightweight.

“We’ve basically taken a museum exhibit and made it transportable … that will be changeable and manipulated by the kids,” she says.

Each school will play host to the Tinker Lab for 12 weeks. While Ludlow Elementary School already has a  “maker space” available for the Tinker Lab, Chester-Andover, Cavendish and Mt. Holly will set aside space for the duration.

While White manages the afterschool programs, and will be utilizing the Tinker Lab for those kids, she says, “Our goal is to also have classroom teachers use it during the school day for their curriculums.”

Tinker Lab 2

The Tinkering Tenets, from White’s presentation. Click photo to enlarge.

“The after-school program tries to align with what kids are learning in school and offer an environment in which they can take the words that they learn in class and create something with their hands,” says White, adding, “Brain science will tell you that that is how most people learn.”

White says the Tinker Lab will also introduce girls to tools such as saws, hammers, drills and cordless screw drivers at an early age, and will grow up not being intimidated by them. “Girls don’t start lagging behind in science till middle school,” she said. “But hopefully, this will give them the confidence and love of science and creating.”

While the Tinker Lab is child-driven and child-centric, White says that doesn’t mean it will be a free-for-all. “Our plan is not to overwhelm kids but to come up with two or three curriculums every year.” The first two, she believes, will be Circuit Boards and Electronics and Simple Machines. Kids, she says, “can start out small and build on it. We do have goals. We hope that at the end, they can solder a circuit board.”

White said another grant application is in the works and she is looking for corporate sponsors — both nationally and locally — for donations of money, tools and other objects that the children can use.  “We’re going to be working with MIT and the Exploratorium in San Francisco. And I’ll be creating curriculums for this over the summer.”

The Tinker Lab is also expected to be used for the summer programs beginning in 2017.

For information about donating goods, contact Venissa White at 802-591-1661. If you or your business is interested in making a monetary donation, make checks out to TRSU, with Tinker Lab in the memo line. They can be sent to Two Rivers Supervisory Union, 609 VT Route 103 South, Ludlow, VT 05149. To view White’s presentation to the TRSU, click here.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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