Introduction: Flowers From Mars - 1st Grade Tinkering - Week 1

"FLOWERS FROM MARS" is the first lesson in a 10 week Tinkering series offered to first grade students. Using everyday materials in open-ended projects, we transform the ordinary to the extraordinary while nurturing problem solving skills, building creative confidence, encouraging collaboration, and empowering students as agents of their own success.

What is tinkering? Tinkering is experimenting with ideas, tools and materials to discover the myriad of possibilities that everyday objects can hold. Tinkering allows us to invent marvelous creations through working with our hands, persevering through setbacks, and engaging with others in creative collaboration. Tinkering is "thinking with our hands."

Why tinkering? Thanks to smart phones, video games, and good ol' TV, too much of our kids' world is virtual and their experiences are largely vicarious. Tinkering allows for empowered, active learning. It is real interaction with real objects, real tools, and real people.


Students will transform ordinary paper towel and toilet paper rolls into unique expressions. (Note: Making the "flowers" is just a suggestion - students are invited to tinker with the materials and tools to create whatever they wish).


  • Explore ways to manipulate & change the shape and function of cylindrical cardboard to fantastical creations
  • Build an understanding of the concept of TINKERING
  • Foster collaboration between small groups of students
  • Encourage speaking and listening skills in group discussion

Step 1: Gather Materials / Introduction (5 Minutes)


  • Paper towel and toilet paper rolls (at least 5 per student)
  • Scissors (one per student)
  • Tape dispensers / tape (one per 2 students)

Introduction & Demo (students on the rug) - 10 minutes

Tell the students: "For the next 10 weeks, we are going to have lots of fun doing what's called TINKERING." "Has anyone ever heard the word TINKERING before?" "What do you think it means?" Gather responses then offer this definition:

"Tinkering is a way we can experiment and explore. We can take materials and tools, and our imaginations to discover new things about an object. Tinkering allows us to make marvelous creations by working with our hands and working with our classmates. Tinkering is a way of "thinking with our hands."

"Let's make this our phrase. When I say "When we tinker" you say, "we think with our hands." (gesture with wiggling fingers at the top of the head). Do the phrase/gesture together a 2nd and 3rd time together.

Introduce TOOLS and MATERIALS:

TOOLS - are things we use to help us make, build and create. Tools can be hammers and saws, but tools can also be scissors, tape, pencils. It's what we use to TRANSFORM, or change something. Today, the tools we will be using are SCISSORS and TAPE.

MATERIALS - are the things that are being TRANSFORMED or made into something. Today, the MATERIAL we are using are toilet paper rolls.

Step 2: DEMONSTRATION (5 Minutes)

How can we use these tools (hold up scissors and tape) and this material (hold up paper towel roll) to transform this ordinary object into something extraordinary? At each child's suggestion, model the idea with a TP roll and scissors.

"Let me show you another thing we can do." Demonstrate how to cut "petals" on one end of the TP roll, bending each down to become like a flower. "I call this a FLOWER FROM MARS because it's strange and fantastic!" "What other ways can we tinker to make unique looking flowers?" Demonstrate how to fold the petals in different ways, cut them at different widths, etc.

Modeling perseverance (the whoo-hoo! moment)

Model an intentional error by cutting all the way through the roll, and exclaim, "Whoo hoo!" Explain that "When we make a mistake, we say "Whoo-hoo!" because mistakes are opportunities to learn." Can we all say "Whoo-hoo!" If you make what you think is a mistake, don't get upset, just say "whoo-hoo!" and try again."

There is no "WRONG" in Tinkering, but there are a few rules:

1 - RESPECT the Materials and Tools - Use tools properly, be mindful to use materials wisely, not wastefully

2 - RESPECT your classmates - share materials, share tools. Be encouraging! Work together!

3- RESPECT yourself - always try your hardest. It's OK to feel frustrated, but keep working and keep trying. Be PROUD of what you do.

Step 3: Tinkering Time! (25 Minutes)

For the first 10 minutes, children will work independently, exploring the materials on their own. Remember, the flowers are just a suggestion. Students should feel free to tinker and experiment with the tools and materials, so long as they are following the 3 rules of respect.

After 10 minutes, stop and get the children's attention to issue a new challenge. "I now challenge you to see if you can connect what you've created with the other kids' flowers at your table." Demonstrate how two rolls can come together to make an even more fantastic flower.

Watch for signs of frustrations while students are working. Remind students to just say "Whoo-hoo!" when they've made what they think is a mistake.

When you see collaboration happening, call it to everyone's attention and celebrate it!

At the last 5 minutes, give a 5 minute warning to clean up time and say, "I challenge you to take it even further. Can you connect even more together? Can you cut or fold it in a way that it hasn't been done yet? "

Give 2 minute and 1 minute warnings.

Step 4: Clean Up and Reflection (10 Minutes)

Clean Up: Students should clean up their tables, placing scraps into the recycling bin, and returning scissors and unused rolls to their proper containers. Cleaning up after ourselves is an important part of Tinkering.

Reflection Time: In a circle on the rug, facilitate a dialogue about the tinkering experience.

"When we tinker, it's good to share our ideas and the things we discovered with each other."

"It's important that only one person talks at a time and they we give respect to each other."

"Does anyone have any discoveries they'd like to share?"

"Does anyone have a story about what they created?"

"Did anyone have a "Whoo-hoo" moment? A time when you felt stuck? How did you get unstuck?"

"Does anyone have an appreciation for a classmate? Something you noticed someone else doing that you thought was great?"

"I'll be back next week so we can tinker again!" End with the phrase & gesture. "When we tinker, we think with our hands."


Invariably, students will want to take what they create home to show their parents. They're proud of what they've created, and that's a good thing. The one draw back to allowing students to take home what they make is that when students have worked together on an creation, the question arises as to WHO gets to take it home. Or even worse, children are disinclined to collaborate because they want to take their individual creation home.

At our school, we resolved this issue with a policy we share with the students from the start, which is that what we make in Tinkering class, stays in the classroom to be used as inspiration for others. We hold Tinkering class Thursdays, and each 1st grade teacher as a "Tinkering Station" set up for their free choice time on Friday afternoons. The same materials and tools from the day before are made available, and students are invited to be self-directed in further tinkering lessons. For Friday free choice, we have a "make it and take it" policy. What you create with Tinkering materials and tools on Friday, they may take home.

Step 5: Goals & Perspectives on 1st Grade Tinkering Program:

  • Open-Ended Challenges: There is no "right" way to do it, no step-by-step instructions. Challenges are designed for success in a variety of ways and allow students to investigate and succeed on their own terms.
  • Collaborative in nature:. All tinkering challenges are group projects where individual work could join together with classmates' to create something new. Students build together, fostering a sense of being part of something larger than themselves.
  • Materials are ordinary objects, recycled whenever possible: Challenges envision ways to use familiar objects in unfamiliar ways. Toilet paper rolls, milk cartons, paper goods; the materials are all things that kids have at home, so they can continue tinkering.
  • Embracing failures, managing frustrations and persevering: "Nothing is a mistake. There's no win and no fail. There's only MAKE." Getting stuck is celebrated as students are encouraged to see sticky points as opportunities to learn.
  • Revisit & iterate with "free-choice" tinkering station: Materials from each week's challenge are made available at a "Tinkering Station" at free choice time, allowing students to explore further and be self-directed in their learning.
  • Empathy & Storytelling: Opportunities for speaking and listening are included as part of reflection time. Students share stories of what they've created and offer appreciations for classmates and the skills and abilities they bring to the group.
  • Enhancing design sensibilities: Challenges value the form of the object as much as its function. Challenges are designed to be aesthetically pleasing and enliven imaginations.
  • Respect for materials and tools: Tools and materials are the vehicles for our creativity and expression. Tools are used properly and although we may sometimes make a mess when tinkering, we always clean up after ourselves.
  • Creative confidence: Empowering children to see themselves as Makers and creators
  • Problem solving, curiosity, inquiry: Challenges are designed to encourage an understanding materials and their properties and how to manipulate them to create something new. Students are encouraged to stretch and explore, discovering what else they can create.
  • FUN! The serious work of PLAY. Einstein said, "Play is the highest form of research."