by Tyler Hale
This Saturday, creators and engineers of all ages will descend on downtown Little Rock’s Museum of Discovery to investigate, explore, question and tinker. The Museum of Discovery is holding its annual Tinkerfest, day-long event that takes place across the entirety of the museum with more than 40 interactive events.
A product of the “Maker Movement,” Tinkerfest was founded in 2012 to challenge people – young and old alike – to think outside of the box. According to Museum of Discovery’s Chief Marketing Officer, Tinkerfest is first and foremost, a celebration of tinkering and innovation.
“Tinkerfest is important because of what it celebrates – tinkering. Tinkering helps us understand how things are made, explore and test ideas and solve problems. It’s really the foundation of innovation.
But just what is tinkering? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines tinkering as “to repair, adjust or experiment with,” and to “repair, adjust or work with something in an unskilled or experimental manner.”
But Tinkerfest program manager Thomas Lipham doesn’t see anything unskilled about tinkering. Instead, tinkering is a way of challenging people’s creativity to come up with unexpected solutions. In modern society, he says, people are routinely provided with cut-and-dried instructions, and when that is lacking, they can feel lost. Tinkerfest is designed to counter this feeling of being adrift when faced with unfamiliar challenges or limitations.
“Tinkering is just a great format for that because tinkering is open ended. Instead of a list of instructions that you follow, you’re provided a series of materials or a variety of tools or a limitation of materials that you have to use your creativity…to just tinker with it,” he says.
“In our society, if you don’t have instructions, a lot of people can feel kind of lost. like, well, what am I supposed to do next? And our answer to that is, ‘I don’t know what can’t you do? And that that encourages a different kind of creativity.”
Thorton echoes Lipham’s thoughts, saying that increased technology is leading to a lack of problem-solving and critical thinking skills. The activities at Tinkerfest, she says, are designed to foster these skills.
“While having a tiny computer you carry in your pocket or purse that allows you to Google anything and everything at any time is great, it is creating a population that doesn’t know how to problem-solve,” Thorton says. “But when you are taking a car apart, or building a solar-powered machine or testing the speed of various materials down a ramp (just a few of the activities you can do at this year’s Tinkerfest, by the way), you’re exploring, using independent and critical thinking skills and learning through trial and error (Why didn’t this flying machine fly? Maybe it’s too heavy so let’s lighten it and see if it flies.) Tinkerers are change-makers who take problems and develop solutions so that is why it is valuable to foster tinkering in our schools, community and state.”
Participants will have a wide array of interactive activities to participate in this year. While Tinkerfest always fields around 40 events, according to Lipham, this year is bringing in even more. There will be a airplane design and testing station with Dassault Falcon Jet, a tinkering with food station with Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, a robotics station, a stop motion animation station and more. See the full list here.
“We want people to just kind of take a little sampling, a little nibble here and there of all these different activities, and we want people to grow in their hunger for it. So then when they go home, they’re going to feast on it,” Lipham says. “We’re really hoping when a family comes to Tinkerfest is that they become inspired about something. So when a guest comes in and it goes through an activity, we want that to inspire them so much that they want to go home and continue that experience to expand that experience.
And there’s no age limit on the fun. Lipham encourages children, teenagers, adults and seniors to make the trip to the Museum of Discovery to tinker on Saturday. “It’s a kind of a day that is fantastic for teenagers, fantastic for young adults, fantastic for young professionals and fantastic for young families. It’s fantastic for grandparents too.”
The end goal of Tinkerfest is to spark passion in the attendees and create a willingness to experiment that can lead to innovation, Lipham says.
“What Tinkerfest does is it really pushes the first part of our mission statement which is to ignite and fuel passion,” he says.“So Tinkerfest is really kind of pushing the envelope of getting people to investigate on their own and to try things on their own and then to be vulnerable and be willing to fail at something that’d be completely okay failing or not in achieving a goal the first time is part of the learning process, part of the engineering process.”
The cost is $10 for adults and $8 for children 12 and younger. It is free for Museum of Discovery members.