Wire Explorations a La Asawa - 1st Grade Tinkering - Week 6

Introduction: Wire Explorations a La Asawa - 1st Grade Tinkering - Week 6

"Wire Explorations a la Asawa" is the sixth 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 learn about a favorite tinkerer, artist Ruth Asawa, who transformed ordinary, inert materials like wire and paper into dynamic sculptures. Students will experiment with wire to create their own "empathetic inventions" - things whose purpose is to help others in whatever ways the students imagine. .


  • Introduce students to the work of Ruth Asawa, whose tinkering mindset inspired her creative process
  • Explore using wire as a "line" that can become 3 dimensional when manipulated in different ways
  • Introduce students to using empathy in creating inventions intended to help others
  • Develop perseverance and creative confidence through experiential Tinkering activity
  • Encourage speaking and listening skills in group discussion

Teacher Notes

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Step 1: Materials & Introduction


  • Colored "telephone" wire (or plastic coated craft wire). Cut in 2' segments - lots!
  • Modeling clay
  • Cardboard base (approx 10 x 12 inches) One per student
  • Coffee stirrer-straws (cut to different lengths)
  • Pencils, magic markers (or dowels) of varying widths

INTRODUCTION & DEMO (students on the rug) - 5 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.

Inform students that today they're going to learn about a favorite famous tinkerer, artist Ruth Asawa. Tell students that Ruth loved to see the possibilities in ordinary materials, things like paper and metal and wire, and she would experiment with different ways of manipulating them to transform them into remarkable sculptures. One of Ruth's favorite materials was wire. She would use it to make stars, and baskets, and trees, and unusual shapes. (Show pictures) Ruth said that she thought of wire as a line that could move through space. And just like you can use a pencil to draw a line that is straight, curvy, zigzagged or twisty, you can bend and shape wire to do so as well.

Introduce TOOLS and MATERIALS:

MATERIALS - The main material we are exploring today is wire - to find the different ways that we can use these "lines" to create 3-D sculptures (or prototypes of inventions). Other materials we will be using are cardboard bases, modeling clay (to help hold wires in place) and thin straws to help our wire stand taller.

TOOLS - Remember that are things we use to help us make, build and create. Today's tools are pencils and markers, but we won't be using them to write! We'll be using them to help transform our wire.

Step 2: Demonstration (5 Minutes)

Demonstrate different ways the wire can be manipulated through bending and twisting. For Ruth, she would start those fantastic sculptures by carefully curling wire around a wooden dowel, sliding it off, and then flattening the loops. Show students how to carefully loop the wire on the pencil, pinching it with the left hand and holding it taut in the right hand and circling the pencil. Demonstrate how different markers, pens and straws will make different size curls.

Demonstrate how to use small clumps of clay to hold the wire to the base and straws to help wire stand taller. Students will be making whatever they wish with the materials, and as always, collaboration is HIGHLY encouraged!

This week's extra design challenge: If you're making a prototype (or an example) of an idea for an invention or creation, see if you can come up with an idea for an invention that HELPS someone. Maybe it does work for them that they don't enjoy doing (like cleaning a bedroom), or maybe it solves a problem they have (like how to walk their dog while they are at school), The best inventions are the ones that think of others and the things they need to make their lives better.

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. Be careful with the wire. Pay attention to where the end is, so you don't poke yourself or your neighbor in the face. Don't wrap it around your fingers or your neck.

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 use of the wire and other materials.

After 10 minutes, begin to inquire about the stories behind what the kids are making. When you find students who are creating a design with a purpose of helping others, be sure to commend them in front of the class. Remind students of the design challenge of making a prototype of an invention that helps other people. When you see students collaborating, appreciate them for working together. (Note the one picture here, in one class we actually had 6 kids who initiated working together on their own. It was an amusement park that kept getting bigger and bigger!)

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 what you've made with other students? Can you make your design solve a problem for someone else?" Give 2 minute and 1 minute warnings.

Step 4: Clean Up & Reflection (10 Minutes)

Clean Up:

Cleaning up after ourselves is an important part of Tinkering. Students should return unused materials to their proper containers and check under the desks for materials that may have fallen.

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 empathy and creating designs that help other people. Call on students to share the stories of the inventions they've thought up that can solve a problem for another person. Students can also share appreciations for classmates and their work in tinkering time.


A final thought: Tinkering never ends. We all have paper and scissors at home, so you can keep experimenting with what you can do!

End with the phrase & gesture. "When we tinker, we think with our hands."

Step 5: Some Thoughts for Those Who Haven't Read the Previous Weeks of 1st Grade Tinkering


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."

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    5 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome! I love it when my kids get to do this sort of project at school. Thank you for being a teacher, and for sharing your great ideas here!