March 19, 2015

Exploring Environments for Maker-Centered Learning at SXSWedu

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.

Participants consider the parts, purposes, and complexities of our SXSWedu workshop space.

Participants consider the parts, purposes, and complexities of our #SXSWedu workshop space.

AbD researchers travel in style. Here's our luggage cart, loaded up with 50+ pounds of cardboard for our workshop session at #SXSWedu

AbD researchers travel in style. Here’s our luggage cart, loaded up with 50+ pounds of cardboard for our workshop session at #SXSWedu

Not your average conference materials...

Not your average conference materials…

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.

Getting down to it—many participants opted to work on the floor as opposed to on the bulky tables in our SXSWedu workshop space.

Getting down to it—many participants opted to work on the floor as opposed to on the bulky tables in our #SXSWedu workshop space.

Chairs immediately begin to take shape!

Chairs immediately began to take shape!

Differently roles formed organically as participant groups addressed the task at hand.

Different roles formed organically as participant groups addressed the task at hand.

Rummaging through a heap of materials—after the initial material-grabbing frenzy, one of our SXSWedu workshop participants looks for that perfect piece of cardboard.

After the initial material-grabbing frenzy, one of our #SXSWedu workshop participants looks for that perfect piece of cardboard.

No duct tape here—only document clasps were permitted during our SXSWedu chair-building activity.

No duct tape here—only document clasps were permitted during our #SXSWedu chair-building activity.

A handsomely designed cadboard classroom chair, complete with a functioning note taking desk and cup holder.

A handsomely designed cadboard classroom chair, complete with a functioning note taking desk and cup holder.

In the foreground, a SXSWedu branded chair, in the background to the left, the Macy's logo was repurposed as the Lone Star of Texas.

In the foreground, a #SXSWedu branded chair, in the background to the left, the Macy’s logo was repurposed as the Lone Star of Texas.

A do-it-together card board chair with a bit of a flourish.

A do-it-together cardboard chair with a bit of a flourish.

Texas was in the house.

There was lots of Texas in the house at #SXSWedu.

Participants test out their creations at the end of our chair building activity—they all worked!

Participants test out their creations at the end of our chair building activity—they all worked!

3 thoughts on “Exploring Environments for Maker-Centered Learning at SXSWedu”

  1. Blake says:

    This session was by far my favorite at SXSWedu. Being a huge fan of Project Zero’s work, it was no surprise when the Agency By Design session became one of the highlights of the conference for me. Edward & Jessica had the right balance of leading all of us into inquiry both mentally and through exploration with materials. I appreciated that we had plenty of opportunity to connect, collaborate, and innovate as a collective group, as well as, in smaller teams during the session. Can’t wait till the next time I have an opportunity to connect again with the Agency by Design researchers!

  2. Chris Davis says:

    This workshop touched on so many moving themes in education right now – collaborative learning environments, sparking student agency with multi-modal learning, teaching to a broader cognitive architecture, design thinking, integrative thinking – but mostly I left in awe of how a table of adults equipped with rough sketches could more or less non-verbally assemble a cardboard chair in no time. Let’s get more of this in the classroom, model, simulate, and bridge thinking back and forth across literacies.

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