Introduction: Un-be-WEAVE-able! - 1st Grade Tinkering - Week 4

"Un-be-WEAVE-able!" is the fourth 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.

DESCRIPTION: In this lesson, students will explore the ideas of re-appropriation and creative re-use of common objects while building collaborative skills through a group weaving project. In previous tinkering sessions, students had the option to collaborate. In this lesson, collaboration is the main goal, as children will work in groups of 3-5 students on a single piece of weaving.


  • Explore the ways that tinkerers engage in creative re-use or re-purposing materials or products to transform them into art, decoration or other useful items.
  • Encourage cooperation and collaboration between 3-5 children on a collective piece of weaving.
  • Develop perseverance and creative confidence through experiential Tinkering activity
  • Encourage speaking and listening skills in group discussion

Step 1: Materials & Introduction


  • Plastic mesh landscaping / snow fencing (can be recycled from a construction site) Cut into 3x4 foot sections (1 section per every 3-6 students)
  • Fabric, cut into strips 1 inch wide x 10-18" long (again, recycled is best - look for scraps from other sewing projects) You'll need a few dozen strips per student. (Note: if you have bright satins, sequined, or metallic fabrics, this makes the project even more fun!)

INTRODUCTION & DEMO (students on the rug) - 10 minutes

(Note to readers: For suggestions on guided conversations that introduce students to the idea of TINKERING, please see my Instructable "FLOWERS FROM MARS", which is week 1 of a 10-week tinkering curriculum)

Begin with the Tinkering motto call and response: "When we Tinker ... we think with our hands." and we make this gesture (Wiggle fingers at your temple and move them outward). Explain to kids to imagine that their hands are holding all their ideas and when you wiggle your fingers it's like letting the ideas come out from your brain.

Inquire about iteration: Last week, we tinkered with bits of straw and pipe-cleaners. Did anyone have an opportunity to tinker some more with those materials and tools? Allow students to share their further explorations. If you have many students with their hands in the air, take a moment to do a "Pair Share" where they turn to the person sitting next to them and tell them about what they created. Remind students that an important part of tinkering is sharing our ideas with our classmates.

Introduce TOOLS and MATERIALS:

MATERIALS - Hold up a section of plastic fencing and ask students what it is. (Answers will vary, but you'll hear things like: a net, a fence, etc). Explain to students yes, the original purpose of this material was to create a fence that either holds something in, or keep something out. However, tinkerers will often look at a material and think up ways that that object can be used differently, and often in ways that the materials were never meant to be used. Hold up strips of fabric and ask how we could use the fabric to re-purpose the fencing into something creative. The answer will almost immediately be...weave it!

TOOLS - Remember that are things we use to help us make, build and create. Mention that you used scissors as a tool to prepare the fabric and the fencing, but today, the only tools the students will be using are their own hands!

Step 2: Demonstration (5 Minutes)

Show students that successful weaving is really just creating a pattern . . . over, under, over, under. The fabric strips will be most secure if they weave it in and out of single squares of the mesh. If you skip over squares, then you might not create enough tension on the fabric to hold it in place. Patience is the key. Work in cooperation with each other - sometimes your fabric strips will meet and cross. Sometimes a student sitting across the table can finish weaving something that you can't reach. Remind students that the goal is to work together to weave the whole sheet of mesh.

Remind them of the rules: 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)

Unlike the usual structure of these tinkering lessons where student first work independently with the materials and are then encouraged to collaborate in the last 15 minutes, this entire session is devoted to collaborative work on the weaving.

Circulate the classroom, watching for displays of successful collaborations. When you see it happening, call it to everyone's attention and celebrate it! (ie. "Hey everyone . . . I just saw that Bobby just started a strip and he couldn't reach to finish it so Sue finished it for him! Has anyone else solved this problem in the same way?")

Give students 5 minute warning for clean up.

Step 4: Clean Up & Reflection (10 Minutes)

Clean Up / Gallery Walk:

Cleaning up after ourselves is an important part of Tinkering. Students should clean up their tables, returning unused fabric strips to a provided container. Once tables are clean, the weavings can be brought to the rug for sharing.

Reflection Time:

In a circle on the rug, students can bring what they've created to share in a facilitated 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."

This week's reflection time can focus on collaboration. Ask students, "Who can share how they felt about cooperating on the weaving? Were there any challenges? Did you have any problems that you had to solve between you? Did you have a moment when you realized that it's fun to work with others on the same project?"

Open discussion to sharing what students created, storytelling about ideas behind what they created and offering appreciations.

Closing: A final thought on creative re-use and re-purposing. Encourage students to try to look at everyday objects differently and see if you can invent new and create ways to use them differently. End with the phrase & gesture. "When we tinker, we think with our hands."

Step 5: Some Other Thoughts for Those Who Haven't Seen the Previous Week's Tinerking for 1st Grade Lesson Plans on Instructables


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 has 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.

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 of 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."