Last week AbD’s Jessica Ross and I were down in Austin, TX to facilitate a maker-centered learning workshop at #SXSWedu. Working within the DIY, Maker & Hacker strand of the conference, our “Exploring Environments for Maker-Centered Learning” session took place in an institutionally lit hotel ballroom packed with bulky ten-person round tables—the perfect space for us to consider what environmental factors support making in the classroom… or not!
The 90+ participants who attended our workshop included k-higher education teachers and administrators, museum educators, after-school program educators, administrators, architects, industry professionals, and a handful of our friends from Maker Ed.
Working in groups, our participants were first asked to use Agency by Design’s Parts, Purposes, and Complexities thinking routine to develop a sensitivity to the design of our workshop space. Then it was time to hack at it. Building off of our experiences at the Learning Environments for Tomorrow conference, using only cardboard (much of which we had lugged from Cambridge, MA) box cutters, and document clasps, we asked participants to build a chair that could support their weight within the narrow timeframe of twenty minutes. Immediately, the making frenzy began. And sure enough, by the end of twenty minutes nearly two dozen handcrafted and fully functional cardboard chairs were on display.
After experiencing a maker-centered learning activity in a less-than-optimal-space, the participants in our session were then asked to use a tweaked version of AbD’s Imagine If… thinking routine to first consider how they might redesign our workshop space and then consider how they might redesign their own learning environments to be more maker friendly.
Interestingly enough, instead of calling for elaborate architectural redesigns or costly equipment purchases, many of our participants suggested very practical, inexpensive, and simple things they could do to make their physical spaces better suited for maker-centered learning. Among the suggestions we heard were increased access to electrical outlets, reconfiguring spaces to have multiple focal points, playing music while students work, and rearranging furniture to provide more room for hands-on doing. One of our favorite suggestions came from a participant who found herself tripping over her colleagues’ purses, backpacks, and tote bags throughout our workshop session. She suggested that simply providing a space for students to put their belongings—so they wouldn’t be tripping over them all of the time—would greatly increase their ability to engage in the act of making.
Below we feature some images from our SXSWedu adventure. We encourage you to check out our Instagram feed for more pictures from our Exploring Environments for Maker-Centered Learning workshop session—and to also let us know what you’ve done to your own learning environments to make them better suited for maker-centered activities.