Each time I read Papert’s essay about the gears of his childhood, I feel a little remorse for some of the more episodic moments I had growing up. Though that remorse fades as I realize that all is not lost and consider my “gears” more as seeds for later realization.
When I was 9 or 10 years old, I remember waiting for the delivery truck. Everyday. For two weeks. It was such an eternity for me. I was awaiting an RC car kit. One I had saved for with money I had earned. The Grasshopper had a 380 motor, shocks, big sandpaddle studded rear tires, an ABS resin chassis and a 2-channel radio with 1 servo.
Upon arrival, I tore through the box and sorted out the pieces. I remember reading through the directions taking it all in. Wondering if I could complete the kit. Several days later I finished putting the Grasshopper together and drove it in the driveway until the battery died down. I raced my friend, who had a similar car, and as all boys do, crashed the car numerous times. I often went “under the hood” to tweak a screw here and there. I even tested the servos to be certain they were calibrated even though there wasn’t anything really wrong with them. I loved peering in on the moving parts, unhooking and reattaching wires, and testing how the shocks worked. I was so amazed that one could control a machine remotely from several hundred yards away.
Despite having this early interest, and having a a mechanical engineer for a father, the tinkering and kit building faded. While I didn’t go into engineering or other related field, the experiences I had with putting the car kit together, along with having a space to do so, we had a great basement with plenty of tools and workbenches, was the dormant seed for my current interest in tinkering and making for learning.
I want the children I work with, including my own child, to have a variety of these “gears” experiences. I don’t mean that it must involve actual gears as Papert’s and, at least partially, mine did. I want children to experience Papert’s powerful idea around constructionist learning. My goal is to create a Maker Studio in my school where children can tinker and make using not only digital technologies that have garnered so much attention, but ones that bridge the physical world with the digital and vice versa.