Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tinkering, work and learning

Tonight I am watching (listening really) toTED talks and came upon this fellow - Gever Tulley and his Tinkering School. His TED biography said this about Gever: "A software engineer, Gever Tulley is the co-founder of the Tinkering School, a weeklong camp where lucky kids get to play with their very own power tools. He's interested in helping kids learn how to build, solve problems, use new materials and hack old ones for new purposes."

I loved playing with every kind of building and fashioning implement when I was young. My grandfather was a cabinet maker and had a garage, our garage to be exact, full of tools, neatly set out at a 10 foot long work bench. How I coveted those magical instruments. But I was a girl and Nonno was from the old country ( Napoli) and I was not allowed. Instead, I borrowed tools from my father's tool kit and made do. My older brother had friends I worshiped because they let me "help" one time when they took their Boy Scout axes and hatchets to our next door neighbor's trees and started building a log cabin. They 'let me' dig out the cellar hole. Not the role I wanted but was so much more interesting than playing with dolls. We got in a lot of trouble for cutting down the 15 - 20 foot tall trees. The neighbor was the grandmother of these guys so the entire experience had a very favorable punishment to pleasure ratio.

We spent our days making bows and arrows, worked on our bikes and attempted to make things from whatever we could find, beg, borrow and borrow on "advanced setting" ( aka: stealing). For me, it was fun on steroids. No one supervised us or warned us of any dangers. We experimented and failed and tried again.

I gave each of our daughters a Swiss Army knife when the reached the age of 8 years. Our two oldest daughters and I made tool boxes out of wood when they were even younger. And we filled them with the right sized tools too. The pocket knife was a right of passage of our own invention that I guess was meant to make up for the tool deficit I had experienced. You could say I had "tool envy" but not the Freudian kind. I just wanted the freedom and means to make things, do things, and create things.

Gever Tulley recognizes this drive in children and has created a program and a whole schtick on what was once a natural part of growing up - back in the day. And probably still is in many parts of the world. You can read more about him at his site and in this excerpt from an npr interview below:

August 4, 2008 MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Okay, parents. You're taking your kid to summer camp, you pack the sunscreen, the swimsuit, you arrive at camp, and you have to fill out the forms.

Mr. GEVER TULLEY (Director, The Tinkering School): We have what many parents have described as the single scariest document they've ever signed around their child. They actually have to print out. I understand that my child may be injured or killed at this camp.

BLOCK: That's the paperwork for a camp called The Tinkering School outside San Francisco. It is unaccredited with astronomically high insurance. Their children are encouraged to play with real tools, build real things and take real risks. We sent reporter Chana Joffe-Walt of member station KPLU to check it out.

CHANA JOFFE-WALT: Gever Tulley wants his campers to make sure to play with fire and knives while at camp, maybe throw a spear, too, drive a car. Tulley's the director of the Tinkering School, and he's got this list of dangerous things he thinks kids should do. The whole thing started - this minor obsession with kids taking risks - at a breakfast. Tulley was just sitting with his friend in her kitchen.

Mr. TULLEY: And we were in the middle of talking, and she just jumped up and run to the door and opened the door and said, Dave, what are you playing with? And her child is out there and says, I'm playing with a stick. And she said, what's our rule about sticks? And he wasn't allowed to play with a stick, and I think he was six or seven.

JOFFE-WALT: Who can resist a stick, Tulley thought. What's going on here? Don't touch this, don't stand on that, don't throw that, don't go near that? Tulley says he felt worried that the boundaries of kid safety zones are growing too wide, that play was only happening in the safe, structured programs, like soccer camp or forest camp. He wanted to try unstructured kids' time so they could learn things on their own. He wanted to see kids build stuff. He wanted to see them fall down. He wanted to bring out his power tools....Listen or read more here.

Music and Speech - It's not just the words you say, but how you say them.

In a paper appearing in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA), Purves says that sad or happy speech can be categorized in major and minor intervals, just as music can.

“Our appreciation of music is a happy byproduct of the biological advantages of speech and our need to understand its emotional content,” Purves says.

“There is a strong biological basis to the aesthetics of sound,” says Dale Purves, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University. “Humans prefer tone combinations that are similar to those found in speech.”

I love it when science confirms what we know, intuitively, as spoken word performers. "Umm-hmmmmm. What he said. " read the entire article here: