Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum spent months putting together the video used in the initial Kickstarter campaign. They used nine different examples to communicate the range of possibilities – but nonetheless, countless people would buy a Makey Makey, build a banana piano, and get stuck. They wouldn’t know where to go next.
The power of Makey Makey is in the possibilities it opens up to create new things, so our communications focused on user-generated content over in-house content. Showcasing what users were doing carried the embedded message that non-experts could do amazing things using the tool. When deciding what to share, the guiding principle was to illustrate the low floor (easy to get started), the high ceiling (potential for complexity), and wide walls (breadth of possibilities at each level of complexity) of creating with Makey Makey.1
Together with CWIST I lead the development of a platform for sharing project guides. The platform was pre-populated with existing project guides and few new ones I made for the launch. The guides came with common core and NGSS standards to help teachers use these projects in their classrooms.
I made a small series of onboarding emails that sent small sets of progressively complex project guides to the people who purchased a Makey Makey through the website.
Together with then education VP Tom Heck, I established a network of Makey Makey Teacher Ambassadors to generate content for the Makey Makey Labz platform. Here you can see a video I produced for the network.
CWIST was acquired and retired by Google in 2018. The Makey Makey Labz content was moved over to Instructables by Makey Makey’s Colleen Graves, who also made a bunch of improvements. You can see that platform here.
#StoryCity is an online collaborative craft project where a mosaic-like picture of a city comes together when families all over the world create the buildings and stories that make up the city.
The inspiration for the project came in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as children all over the world were suddenly confined to their homes. Through #StoryCity, children could play together by building a shared imagined world while staying socially-distanced at home.
Three days into the COVID-19 lockdown I was discussing ideas with colleagues for how to promote creative play to parents stuck at home. The first idea I landed on was a broad concept; a hashtag that would facilitate parents to document and share their children’s creative work as it developed – with the aim of illustrating (to parents) how the evolving goals of their children’s projects can lead to meaningful learning experiences. In short, to promote the tinkering approach to learning as apposed to the planning approach1. This idea never made it past the concept phase, but it did, appropriately, evolve into something else: #StoryCity.
This tweet got a pretty positive response, so I wrote a post on the LEGO Foundation blog to promote the project and guide parents in facilitating the activity as a child-directed way to play together. Here’s an excerpt:
“…You know your kids better than anyone, but consider your level of involvement in directing the play. The more your kids take ownership of the project, the more they’ll get out of the experience of building it. That said, your kids might need a higher level of guidance to get started….”
After a few days, the #StoryCity hashtag started filling up with posts from all over the world. But the hashtag search function on Twitter wasn’t the ideal user interface, so I teamed up with the Playful Learning Lab and together we made the website StoryCity.Land. The new website’s aim was to improve readability, collect content from more sources, and host educator guides. As of jan 2021 the Playful Learning Lab still maintains the site.
Here are some of my favorite stories from #StoryCity
1 Tinkering vs. planning – see excerpt from Designing for Tinkerability by Mitch Resnick & Eric Rosenbaum
Many people think of tinkering in opposition to planning—and they often view planning as an inherently superior approach. Planning seems more organized, more direct, more efficient. Planners survey a situation, identify problems and needs, develop a clear plan, then execute it. Do it once and do it right. What could be better than that?
Parque de Farrapos was a play festival held in 3 cities in the state of Espirito Santo, Brazil, during the summer holidays in February, 2020.
I traveled to Espirito Santo one month before the festival to train the design team and the facilitators that would bring the festival to life. The training program included one day of play and reflection with the full team, one day of play, discussion, and co-design with local educators for the design team, and several further days of sparring with the design team.
The project was a collaboration between Purpose and the LEGO Foundation. The broader aim of this partnership in Brazil was to lift parent perceptions of the importance of play in their children’s development.
Over 2,000 children, parents, teachers, and NGOs came to play at the park, taking part in activities designed to engage kids and their parents in learning through play. As well as lots of attention from the general public, local municipalities and decision-makers came out to support (and play!) in the park.
Sunlight Play is set of tools for play based exploration of light, shadow, color, movement, scale, and story telling. The main tool is a fully articulable point light source powered by a rechargeable battery with a solar panel embedded in the base. Along with the light, Sunlight Play comes with articulable mirrors, and a range of materials that cast interesting shadows, bend light, and make colored shadows.
The set of tools and materials was designed for settings where electrical infrastructure is not prioritized for child’s play or missing entirely, specifically UNICEF’s refugee learning centers and the BRAC play labs. Sunlight Play facilitates explorative play with no wrong answers. It positions light as material with which to be creative, situating the child as a competent user of the medium and developing creative confidence.
The prototypes were made using the little sun lamps designed by Olafur Eliasson.
Sunlight Play was developed over the course of several months in the fall of 2019 and winter 2020. Before the tools could be pilot tested, the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the project, eventually being completely shelved when I left the LEGO Foundation in June of that year. Pablo Pedrosa, then a masters student at Designschool Kolding, supported the project.
Kaleido-Mirrors is a simple tool that opens possibilities for creative exploration through tessellation. It is made of two small mirrors connected by a hinge. When placed on a surface, the mirrors create a kaleidoscopic effect that can be adjusted as the angle of the mirrors is made bigger or smaller.
I designed this handheld (businesscard sized) Kaleido-Mirror to enable active audience participation in talks on creativity. Each audience member receives a Kaleido-Mirror and a set of instructions to use the mirror. The instructions follow the Jay Silver closed started, open ended design principle for building creative confidence. 1 The first prompt is to multiply ones fingers using the mirror; the second prompt is to create a square using the back of ones cellphone; and the third prompt is to use two minutes inventing new ways to use the mirror to create new shapes and patterns.
This audience participation tool was inspired by The Duck activity used by LEGO Education.
Use in Workshops
I’ve also used Kaleido-Mirrors in a few workshops, pairing the tool with Turtle Art and Spirographs to deepen the possibilities for pattern exploration, and a temporary tattoo printer2 to make the explorations more meaningful.
My fascination with tinkerable kaleidoscopes began at the ECSITE conference makerspace in Copenhagen, 2019. Samar Kirresh from the Qattan Foundation had brought a small open-ended kaleido-mirror mounted on a rotating plate. This small installation invited people to draw a squiggle, place it on the plate, and rotate the plate to see the different shapes change in the mirror.
While preparing for a workshop, Samar and I started playing with the Turtle Art ipads – and mixing them with the kaleidoscope. This lead to a type of mimicry play, where a shape was made in one medium, then recreated in the other.
In the weeks that followed I continued to experiment with the kaleido-mirror, as an installation at the LEGO Idea Studio, as a workshop, eventually as a communication tool for presentations.
User Experience Study
A short piece of documentation interpreting the experience of a former colleague learning to use Turtle Art and exploring the possibilities afforded by the Kaleido-Mirror. This was created as an exercise in the subjective learning documentation methods developed in Reggio Emilia, as documented in Reggio Children / Project Zero book Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners.
1. Mitchell, R. Lifelong Kindergarten (2017) p. 82
LEGO Art Machines is a playful learning activity developed by the Tinkering Studio and the LEGO Idea Studio. Used in workshops and as a drop-in tinkering activity, Art Machines invites people to build a machine that draws a pattern.
LEGO Art Machines is a tinkering activity. That means it’s open-ended. It’s not a game that can be won; it is a playful context to explore. It’s closer to a sandbox than a Rubik’s cube.
A challenge to running this activity is the fragility of the connection points between LEGO pieces under strain from the machine’s movement. This issue was solved by giving users a “base model” rather than just the raw pieces for them to start from scratch. The base models affix the motor to the battery pack and give the machine one simple movement that each user can build on to.
In 2018 I made a building instruction booklet to offload the work of creating base models before a workshop onto the participants, who might also feel a greater sense of ownership of their machine having built it from the raw pieces. This project was an effort to combine the intuitive (and near-ubiquitous) LEGO building instructions with the open-ended pedagogical approach from LEGO Art Machines.
The book starts users off without any choice, just like a standard building instruction. After a few initial steps are completed and the motor is affixed to the battery, the booklet gives users three choices of new directions to go. That page includes photographs that show what type of pattern each base model will create.
The user picks a path, and the building instructions continue. When the basemodel is complete, the instructions show them how to tip the machine over so the pen meets the paper, and press the power button so it starts to move. The photographs show a few messy examples of what their art machine might look like when they’ve continued iterating – going beyond the instructions.
Africa Play 2019 was a conference hosted by Unicef, the South African Department of Basic Education, and the LEGO Foundation. The conference gathered practitioners, administrators, and policymakers from across the African continent to put a tight focus on the need to prioritise play in childhood development.
Was a two day festival in October 2020 for children and families on the Permanente beach in Aarhus. The event was put on by the Nilsen Museum and En Hemmelig Klub, with financial support from Børnekulturhuset Aarhus.
There were four activities at the festival.
Fortune Telling Treasures
Made by En Hemmelig Klub Children brought the treasures they had found on the beach to a fortune teller who told them their fortune based on the characteristics of the treasures they had found. Children found sea glass, special stones, seashells, crab shells, garbage, a living starfish, and more.
Made by Bobleheksen The Bubble Witch brought the giant bubble making equipment she normally uses in street performances. For the festival, the Bubble Witch showed kids how they could use the tools to make their own giant bubbles. Children played with the bubbles in a range of different ways – chasing them, popping them, dodging them, etc. The bubbles slowly floated around throughout the festival, creating a very magical vibe.
Made by the Nilsen Museum I facilitated the building and tinkering of a specially designed set of marble run tracks for use on the beach. The marble runs were based on the Tinkering Studio’s Marble Machines and a 1936 wooden LEGO toy. Child sized shovels provided an easy way of making mountains and valleys to build the tracks into. Sand is such an amazing play material in itself; adding the very iteration-encouraging marble run tracks made for a very interesting activity I will explore further after the pandemic is over. You can see some of notes about the activity here.
By En Hemmelig Klub En Hemmelig Klub developed a set of tools for drawing large scale pictures and patterns in the sand. They’ve also made a number of footprint-making devices. The sand-drawings wove beautifully between all the areas of the festival and extended far down the beach. There are more pictures of the land art tools in action here.
Photos by Fie Lund Mortensen, En Hemmelig Klub, and me.