by Barb Noren, Lead Tinkering Facilitator, reDiscover Center
There are a few different modes of building that I’ve observed: tinkering, prototyping, and making. These modes are flexible and overlapping, but have different intentions, benefits, and challenges.
Tinkering is experimentation; often open-ended, without an end goal. You may reach one, but pure tinkering doesn’t have explicit intention to begin with. Wherever it ends, it always involves splashing around in a pool of uncertainty.
Prototyping lives between tinkering and intentional making. You often have an end goal, at least a whisper of one, but you’re working out how to make it happen by experimenting with different options on a small scale.
Making is usually more intentional. Sometimes it has explicit, pre-planned steps, sometimes you wing it, but it definitely has an end goal (of course, if you’re an accomplished tinkerer, the end goal may change), and there is generally some finished product that comes out of it.
When you get to the making stage, you may want to use fancier materials, something more lasting than is needed for tinkering and prototyping. One of the beauties of the tinkering and prototyping phases is that your materials needs are very flexible. The best tinkering materials are easily accessible, inexpensive or recycled, and multifunctional. The lists at the link below (and which are also linked to from the resources page) are hardly exhaustive, but they contain suggestions of well-tested materials and tools that can serve multiple purposes.
This is hardly a full list, but it is good for starters. Leave a comment below if you have suggestions that you’ve found useful.