Hiring a Tinkering Mentor ?

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Now that you have set up the lab. What do we do next? Yes, we need someone to run the lab and do the day to day mentoring in the lab.

Who do we hire?  What should be the job profile like?  Is there even a profile like Tinkering Incharge or a Tinkering Mentor? Should they have experience or freshers would be fine? What should be their educational qualification?

In this article, we look at addressing a few of these issues school face!

Most schools don’t know what to look for and mostly go by some standard profile or give an advertisement in a newspaper or social media or HR consultant. Though this can be good start lets understand the details.

What to look for in Tinkering Mentor?

  1. A person skilled in tinkering and understands tinkering well, This means you have to look at someone who is a “DOer“, look for a person who has executed various projects in electronics, mechanical domain. Look for an interdisciplinary kind of person, a jack of various subjects, but with lots of energy and bubbling with ideas. When we say interdisciplinary, this is something you can’t gauge by looking at their educational profile. This is only indicated by the kind of projects and number of projects they have done or are involved with. Voluntary activities they get involved with also help you gauge what they like doing. Ask them about their project, if they can passionately tell about it and answer most questions, this is a good indicator. The education qualification could be an engineer, diploma holder or even a self-made tinkerer with no degree to show. As long as they fulfil the above it doesn’t matter. Avoid teachers with pure theoretical background and no proven practical experience and knowledge. i.e. they haven’t soldered,  have not done any simple carpentry work, don’t know to open an old radio box/ mobile phone or fix a simple electrical connection. If they have not done any of the above then they might not be tinkerer material.
  2. The 2nd most important thing is their ability to be good storytellers and communicators and their ability to connect with kids, How do we test this? Put them in a class and ask them to teach the kids about any topic of choice. How the kids respond and interact can be a good indicator of how effective the mentor is. Use 7-8th graders to do the test class. Liking the kids is an important criterion.
  3. Experience: We really like young guys, because they connect well with kids on an average, but this is not mandatory. Too much experience can sometimes be a hindrance. 0-2 years are good. Please remember there can always be exceptions!  Why zero years?  We have hired and trained over 150 tinkering mentors and we have found that you don’t get many people with experience in this profile, so better to train them and make them good at that by looking at the characteristics they exhibit. This can be fruitful and very economical many times. But be sure you have someone to train and guide them.An organization like us can help in this!

Some of them are good at faking interviews, they show pseudo passions and commitment. The interviewer can be fooled completely into believing that they are the perfect fit.

That is why we recommend one/two trial classes by them about any project in a live class can make all the difference.

Please dot expect them to be perfect, it’s about a good balance of Passion, Knowledge, and Communication which matters. A little bit of training and hand-holding can do wonders and can bring out the best in them as they are new to this job too.

Please take time and effort, in recruiting the right candidate as this can make all the difference in running the Tinkering Lab effectively. No matter how much you invest in the Lab, the right Mentor driving the lab can make all the difference. Invest in them!

A great car with a bad driver can break the car  !

What to buy for Tinkering Lab – Tools & Equipments

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This particular article will be focussing on the equipment and various categories of tools needed in a tinkering lab. For schools setting up the tinkering labs following has to be noted,

  • Students centric – Most tools kids should be able to use with little handholding and if possible customised& designed keeping students in mind.
  • Safety – Worst Case scenarios and safety matters must be considered well. Get Fire Extinguishers and 1st aid kits before anything else.

The kind of tools and no of components will depend on no of students in a batch and the age group utilizing the Lab.

From our experience we have seen BiBox Labs work well from 8+ age,    We divide them into 3 categories

  • Level 1 – 3rd to 5th grade – Very curious and explorers focus on kinesthetic skills, cause and effect relationships.
  • Level 2 – 6th to 8th rade – Computational thinking and Logic Capable at abstract levels. Hand holding level is medium. Can be very creative.
  • Level 3 – 9th Onwards – Mostly adult like capabilities and understanding,  mature questioning skills.

So the kits you pick up will also be based on the same above. We have seen Level 2 and above is what most schools will have.

The categories of tools can be divided into following sections

1: Mechanical

Tools like spanners, screwdrivers, pliers, measuring tools and then you have electrically powered tools like drillers, weighing machines, glue guns, dremel kits, small CNC machines etc. Most of the above can just be 1-3 sets if the schools are not implementing learning exercises on them and are basically used when project-specific needs exist.Have a Pegboard for keeping the above

If learning specific kits are needed like carpentry/clay-modeling, then 10nos mini electric drill kits and smaller screw & chisel kits would be needed.

It is highly recommended to take adequate safety measures while using these tools. Get adequate nos of  protective mask, eye wears, and cut gloves

Consumables here include Wood Sheets, rods, foam sheets, clay, wood glue, glue sticks etc.

Buy enough art and craft materials too including threads, colors, rings, rubber bands, cutters, scissors etc

2: Electronics and Electrical

General purpose materials like resistors, capacitors, LEDs, sensors, cables, wires etc.  and PCB’s. Most of them are consumables.You will need a few 10-100’s in your lab, to begin with, purchase as you consume them.

Tools like Testers, screwdrivers, multimeters, soldering iron are also required.One time investments unless there are breakages/repairs.

Soldering Iron, multimeters, Breadboards etc you will need in 10 units if 30-40 students are using the lab at the same time, else you will have 10 students fighting over one kit which is not very effective.It then becomes a demo piece than a tool to use and learn. You can have double the kits if you want 2 students sharing the kit.

If you are wanting to have a super advanced lab feel and have the budget, you can opt for a Digital CRO. You can just have a computer version of the same. (can be much cheaper than D-CRO). Though we don’t see much usage of this rather than for 15 years and older. One unit is more than sufficient as this would mostly be a demo tool.

A set of DIY circuits or simple reactive electronic circuit boards like little bits ,  snap circuits or the very flexible educational kits like TROPS or BEAK kit (both designed by BiBox) which are good entry points for the students or even adults to start with the electronics are also suggested.Development Breadboard can also be added to this list. We suggest learning kits to be brought in 10 nos as 3-4 students can share one kit and spend more time on them. Demo kits only 1-2 would do.

Add enough kinds of wires and cables and extension cords.

3: Embedded/Programmable  and Computational 

This can be divided into 3 categories

  • Programmable Boards [ BRAIN ] – Also known popularly as Embedded Boards.This is where all the thinking happens in the machine world, these are required to do any kind of automation, control, monitoring tasks. Most of the devices you see around get their intelligence and smartness are because of these. And as the name suggest you need a Computer/Laptop/Tablet to program and tell these boards to behave in a certain manner. These devices are like the brain – they just think and process information.The brain is useless without the sensors and motor functions, this is why we need the Input and output accessories.
  • Input Accessories:  The devices which feed the programmable boards, like our eyes and ears, we have all the switches sensors which come under this.
  • Output Accessories: The devices like Lights, Speaker, Motors which perform actions as told by the programmable board.

The coming age is an age of IOT and AI and preparings kids to use these programmable tools can be very beneficial early on.

In Programmable Boards, we recommend two types of kits, one is the learning kits which provide exposure to Computational Thinking. You can start with specially designed kits for students like the BIBOX Tern or Hornbill, the nice part about these kits is they can evolve depending on the Level of kids.They support graphical programming to scripting. Supports wireless to IoT to Mesh networks.

The 2nd kind is application specific ones, a few boards like Arduino nano, Rasberry Pi and Wifi Based boards based on feature variations like Processing Power, Peripherals, and Size.

When it comes to Input and Output accessories we again recommend them to be picked up based on learning and application-specific kits. Learning kits have multiples of 10 and application specific ones just 1-2nos would do.

Please remember for every learning programmable kit you need to have a Laptop/Tablet. Having 10 learning kits and having just 5 computers would not do justice. Of course, computers can be shared, but we have seen that to be very ineffective and wastes a lot of time of students and makes them frustrated. A laptop is an essential tool( very basic ones like 10-11 inch will do too). Invest in them.

Most software tools needed for the above come free.

4: 3d Modelling & Rapid Prototyping

With the advent of kid-friendly 3d modelling and animation tools , and advancements in 3d printing technology. This becomes a must-have in any tinkering Lab.

For 3d-Modelling you just need Laptops/Computers. The most effective are when we see 2 students doing modeling. But you can have them share 3-4 in a team too.

We would have liked ideally 3-4 smaller 3d printers in a lab, and a  good quality bigger 3d printer.But if you don’t have the budget go for the good quality bigger one.

3D printer for school need not be too complex; it should be safe because there are moving parts and heating element and should be easy to use and understand. Avoid DIY kind of printers if you don’t have the technical capability in-house to keep troubleshooting the same. Else you would spend more time fixing printer than printing models 🙂

Consumables here includes the filament for the printer. we recommend PLA for regular usage and thus  you can get 5-6 filaments in different colors and then 1 spool of Wood, Metal and Flexible TPU

The software part includes Tinker cad software which is used for designing a 3D model. There are other different tools available on Tablets and Android phones which support 3D modeling and even Google and windows have their own modeling software.Again most of the software tools are free.

5. Others

Have Fashion Arena – Include stuff like a Sewing machine and cloth samples. You can have VR Headsets, CNC Drilling milling machine, Microscopes, Humanoids, Drone Kits and what not.

PROJECTORS: One projector more than fulfills the need for a Lab. If you have access to good internet speeds and plan to use 3D content you can invest on a 3D Projector (Read and Research before you invest). Invest in a good speaker system too.

Desktop vs Laptop: We recommend laptops, basic 10-14 inch ones will do well but do invest in 10 units of them. We have seen good laptops available at 10k INR.Additionally, you can have one good configuration Desktop/Laptop for the projector and 3d Printer.This can also be used by the Tinkering Incharge/Mentor.

BONUS:  Have a Tinkering library shelf – Books on how to tinker and innovate would also help. Add a couple of bean bags too 🙂

Did we miss something?  Let us know!  Share your experience.

Setting Up Tinkering Lab – The Infrastructure

To the schools who have decided to go ahead with setting up of tinkering lab, the primary requirement is to have a physical space for it.

How much Sq Feet area?
The ideal way would be by looking at the number of students occupying the lab at one stretch.The actual space truly depends on infrastructure school wants and the plan and layout. Keep future expansion plans in mind too if any. 1500-2500 Sq feet area should be more than sufficient for most needs.

Where do I set it up?
1. Centrally accessible to all students, let the entrance not be through another lab.

2.If you are planning heavy accessories ( CNC Machines etc ) then ideally on the ground floor. This also helps keep out the noise to below floors.

If you don’t have space on the ground floor, upper floors would work fine too. The mechanical areas can be carpeted and rubberized to avoid loud hitting noises.

What should be the layout plan?

Have your own design! Don’t follow fixed templates but do refer a few plans and come up with your own. It can be square, rectangular, circular, L Shaped or half open and half closed. Really go on and be creative.You Tinkering Lab should be your own and should have a unique identity.

Some things to remember when you design are –

  1. Keep open spaces, especially in the middle of the lab, avoid too many fixed furniture.
  2. Wide and Multiple Windows ( with blinds – needed when you want to use projector)
  3. Lots of power sockets, at least 15-20 (min rating 5A) all across the Lab.  Special 15A power sockets for high power devices ( if needed). Invest in good quality switches and sockets.
  4. Wet Area – 1/2 Wash Basins
  5. Mandatory Peg Board – 6 feet length x4 feet breadth – To keep all the mechanical tools
  6. Storage Area, attached to a wall – Separate for Electronics / Computational/Embedded / Electrical /Design /Art with marked labels.
  7. Projector Wall
  8. Movable Table and chairs – should be easy to move these around. Table Size – 4×3 feet rectangular, with no sharp edges with wooden top – avoid having storage area or projections below the table (affecting leg area). This is good for 4 students. The chairs should be such that they can be slid into the tables. So for 40 students, you will need 10 such tables and 40 chairs.Alternatively, for 2 Students sharing you can look at 4×2 feet tables.  Here for 40 students, you need 20 Tables. Rectangular tables are better as they can be joined together when you need to have a brainstorming session or want to have a bigger work/display area.Tinkering area is not about comfort its utility. Keep the average height of the students in mind.
  9. Special Areas/Zones for 3d Printer / Project Display Area /VR Showcase etc (some devices like 3d Printers etc should be kept the dust free environment and away from water and moisture in order to avoid rusting – keep this in mind)
  10. Wall of fame – Showcase area for student innovators of your school.
  11. First Aid Zone – And FIre Extinguishers.
  12. The final bit is about the visual aesthetics of the lab, the feel of the lab when you enter matters a lot too. Please see that you can give life to the empty walls by asking your art department and the students to plan a theme for the lab and paint it themselves. This costs almost nothing but will add a lot of character to the lab and students will also be happy that they were involved in the design of the lab. This can be changed once in a year or two and will make the lab feel new with almost nil investment.
  13. The tinkering lab may also include the aspects of fashion, journalism, social designs, clay modeling and art forms etc. which helps the students to open up their mind to humanities.BONUS: Involve a few creative students too when you do the planning and execution. of the Lab. Let them own it up.

In case of any queries please reach out to ask (tinkering@bibox.in), we will be glad to help you out. and customize the same depending on individual requirement.

BONUS: Include some creative students from the starting stages when are setting up the Lab! It helps 🙂   See the video link  here: Students In Action

Video Link 1 :Tinkering Lab @ DPS Bangalore North Video  – This is an L Shaped Lab, has a uniquely done Sharing Arena

Video Link 2 :Tinkering Lab @ DLF Ghaziabad Video    – Square shaped Lab with an Aesthetically done wall of fame.

Video Link 3 :Tinkering Lab @ Kautilya Vidhyalaya Video – Simple rectangular Lab, Notice the big glass walls and paintings when you enter the lab

In the next article, we will be discussing the tools & equipment’s which a school tinkering lab would need.

Tinkering & Tinkering Labs in Schools

Innovation kit for out-of-box ideas catching up in schools (Tech Review)Tinkering by definition means an attempt to repair or improve something in a casual or desultory way. But in general terms, it is all about playing around and meddling with simple stuff, sometimes not even having a clear-cut end goal or time limits.

Thus tinkering can be in any fields and can encompass almost anything like tinkering with an idea or tinkering with a material or tinkering to assemble/create or tinkering to understand.

Tinkering apart from been fun and very satisfying offers Valuable Skills to kids and adults alike. When you allow a child to take something a part, it cures their interest with feelings of confidence and discovery. For ages children have taken things apart to learn how they work. Tinkering for many kids  fuels their natural curiosity about life

The essential tools of tinkering include simple tools like scissors, cutters to tools for carpentry like a chisel, screwdriver to advanced tools like drilling and dremel kits etc.It can vary from making simple models with clay to 3d modeling sophisticated prototypes using 3D printer.The modern advancements help students to use microcontrollers like BiBox, Arduino, Raspberry Pi etc. to design and make smart embedded projects.

A Space/area where one can come and tinker is called a Tinkering Lab. Similar to MakerSpace. A tinkering lab will have all the tools, materials and a mentor to help you to tinker with, especially when the lab is meant for students.

There has been an influx of tinkering lab in the recent times.The Government of India has started the process of setting up thousands of Tinkering labs in schools called as Atal Tinkering Labs , to promote scientific temper and cultivate the spirit of curiosity and innovation in young minds.

Teaching students Tinkering is not really a structured process always. Instead, it is actually throwing an open-ended challenge so that students can perceive in their own process to find out any solution possible, unlike the normal lab which follows certain steps to reach the end goal.

There can be a  few structured classes, in the beginning, to help them understand the tools, the process of thinking and honing their skills. Later they can evolute to what they actually want to do.

On the whole, it is about giving them the tools, process & appreciation of using the tools and giving open-ended challenges to improve on their own. A major part of tinkering lies in the appreciation of failure, as failure is considered the stepping stone and helps in developing the mindset of students.

Please remember, The process of tinkering helps students to discover and find new patterns, form opinions and correlations about various things and process and it is mainly about what students achieve in the process of tinkering and not necessarily the end goal always. Tinkering experience is unique to every individual and let it be that way!

For schools setting up the tinkering labs, in the next article, we will be discussing the physical infrastructure of the tinkering lab and its associated details.