Next Practice Labs – taking makerspaces to the next level
This project will be undertaken by Associate Professor Kjetil Sandvik, University of Copenhagen, and Assistant Professor Klaus Thestrup, Aarhus University, along with a network of partners: DOKK1, a public library and open urban space in Aarhus, that is currently experimenting with different kinds of makerspaces, The LEGO-lab situated at Computer Science, Aarhus University, that over the years has developed a number of work space activities on children and technology, Katrinebjergskolen, a public school that is currently building a new multi-functional rooms, that among other things are meant for makerspaces and new combinations of media and materials. DOKK1 will join as a non-beneficiary partner. Furthermore, the project is part of a larger network in Denmark consisting of daycare institutions children age 1-6 years old and some of these institutions (in Aarhus and the neighboring city of Vejle) will participate in some of project’s activities. The institutions involved therefore cover children in different non-formal and formal educational settings from 1 to 15 years old. An advisory board will part of the Danish network.
As its core methods the project will build on action research and the concept of Next Practice Labs which is a combined pedagogical and research method to engage children, staff and researchers, where the focus is the joint development of the next practice based on mutual play and experiments. These labs can be in pre-defined spaces or erected momentarily according to needs but include in principle all media and all materials in combinations, where new uses of technology and narratives or new technologies and narratives can be invented. The laboratory itself is open to new combinations and open to the surrounding world through digital and global communication.
In these next practice labs the idea of the makerspace will be used and taken to the next level and include communication, play and experimenting to create a situation, where the participants in the makerspace can use any emerging technology and continuously unfold and develop digital literacy and creativity across different makerspaces. This will happen in a process, where DOKK1, Katrinebjergskolen and The LEGO-Lab each in the first phase will develop and run locally functioning Next Practice Labs, then in the second phase start exchanging and producing with each other and in the third and final phase communicate out towards other makerspaces and groups inside and outside the group of partners including other institutions in the network. The Next Practice Labs will therefore both take part in different institutions and across institutions. Robot technology, programming and other actual digital production and communication technologies will be part of the experiments.
The project has reflected on the specific characteristics of makerspaces and in particular how makerspaces may be conceived of as not just concrete spaces (a place to be makeative) but also a specific mindset (a state of makerspacesness). Reflections on the role and use of technologies have been conducted both as part of our secondment-visits and by engaging with secondment-visitors. Furthermore, we have been working on developing and refining our research methods in collaboration with partners both inside and outside of the project and by way of our specific ‘next-practice-lab’ method and open laboratories and experimenting communities as specific explorative research design.
We have conducted two concrete projects with children, teachers, pedagogues, librarians and visiting scholars and practitioners from the MakEY-project (see pictures):
June 2017: first laboratory at Boksen (Katrinebjergskolen, Aarhus: A space becomes a makerspace: Focus on negotiating exploring and experimenting with space, actions and narratives between children, teachers and researchers by building and rebuilding LEGO. A huge amount of LEGO bricks was poured out on the floor and the children told to a) find specific spots in the room to build in, b) to focus on the building-process and not the product, c) include others in the building-process or leave their constructions for others to rebuild. The project lasted two days (without any cleaning-up!).
September 2017: makerspace-experiments at Katrinebjergskolen and DOKK1, Aarhus: Children creating story worlds and storylines with Ozobotts and a manifold of physical materials and objects as creative storytelling devices. This project took place during several weeks in which the children (and teachers, librarians, researchers) worked on experimenting and improvising with the robots (and pimping them in various ways) and creating worlds (planets) for the robots to live and their actions to take place.??
Furthermore, we have conducted on survey on uses and reflections on makerspaces among practitioners in libraries, schools, museums, and daycare institutions i Denmark.
THE STORY OF TWO PLANETS
Examples of and reflections upon how the communication took place on The Global Makerspace in Melbourne, October 2018
By Anca Velicu, Greg Giannis & Klaus Thestrup
How can children and teachers in schools communicate, play and experiment together in makerspaces spread out over the world only connected through the Internet? Researchers from the MakEY-project (http://makeyproject.eu/) asked this question and started to investigate it in October 2018. It got the title The Global Makerspace. Three teams of children were involved in this first stage of the project: St. Stephen’s Primary School, Melbourne (AU), where the authors of this article were involved, Katrinebjergskolen2, Aarhus (DK), and Montgomery School3, Sheffield (UK). This article is based upon the events, as they unfolded in Melbourne. The reader can use this article for both inspiration on how to communicate and reflections on what to consider when doing so.
Before we dive into the actual content, just a few words on the framing around the idea of a global makerspace. The Internet allows for the possibility to expand the actual classroom in a school, a makerspace in the community house or a playground in a kindergarten or pre-school to other physical spaces worldwide or to virtual spaces on-line. The actual local makerspace is still based in physical locations using digital and analogue technologies. These can include access to the world outside through mobiles, tablets, laptops or other devices in the future like robots. What connects makerspaces across time and space could be the notion of cultures of creativity where each culture meets each other through common meaning-making (Gauntlet & Thomsen 2013). In these processes, you ask one another for support, inspiration and maybe common investigation of expressions and values (Thestrup 2019).
The Melbourne context
St. Stephen’s Primary School is a small Catholic primary school in a working-class region in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. It has low numbers and an ethnically diverse student cohort. Dr. Greg Giannis had commenced establishing a makerspace at this school prior to the arrival of the researchers Klaus Thestrup and Anca Velicu, who were visiting Melbourne. The principal, staff members and students at St. Stephen’s had shown great enthusiasm for the establishment of, and for engagement with, the makerspace and embraced the possibility of being involved in an international project. The main idea was to expand the space beyond the physical makerspace and to engage children at a global scale to communicate and to start forming a community. This was to be achieved by providing a platform that would be both a source of inspiration and place of exposition for their creations. The Google+ platform was chosen for this purpose. This platform allows the users to post images, videos and text and comment on what other users have uploaded. It has a menu, which allows the user to rather easily get an overview of what is being posted. A private group was created with limited access, in order to comply with the ethical requirements of the project. In general, researchers’ accounts were used, and in some instances researchers did the actual uploading of content to the platform. In Melbourne, researchers’ digital devices were given to the students to upload themselves the content they wanted to share with others, under the researchers’ supervision. Furthermore, some adult students from the Center for Teaching Development and Digital Media, Aarhus University had been involved with the platform, not only as observers, but were actually contributing to stirring discussion and creating things and sharing online.
[The facilitators from the MakEY-project who worked with this team of children were: Dr.Greg Giannis (AU), Dr. Klaus Thestrup (DK) and Dr. Anca Velicu (ROM).
The facilitator from the MakEY-project who worked with the Danish children was Master Student Louisa Haugaard Pedersen (DK).
The facilitators from the MakEY-project who worked with the Sheffield team of children were Dr. Becky Perry (UK), Dr. Bobby Nisha (UK) and Prof. Jackie Marsh (UK)]
The performative act
In this article, the transformations of one of the children’s creations will now be described.
This will make visible how children and adults engaged with each other and with the platform, how the flow of communication between children and/or teams that are in different and far away venues are prompted by their creations/objects and how the discussions that pop-up during these transformations of the objects contribute to new meanings and understandings of what creating, naming and playing represent. Please note that this describes but one of the many wonderful and inspiring creations and exchanges that occurred.
The story began with two strange and brand new planets that one of the girls from Melbourne drew. They were not the image of known planets, but, as she put it, “They are entirely from my imagination”. Therefore, she did not label them in her first drawing, on paper, but just put some question marks next to them to signal her – at that moment, unfinished – creation. One of the researchers suggested to ask for some help in naming the planets from the other groups of children (see Picture 1).
In the communication between the 3 schools and the group of students the post received six comments and a like. The first comments came from adult students from Aarhus who were engaged with the platform and, along with compliments, provided possible names for planets and the reasons behind these names. For instance, Trine proposed the names “Electrise” – because “I get an electric vibe from it” – and “Fozzoid” – because the second planet “looks kinds a fuzzy and cute”, whereas Merethe proposed “Cubish or dichish” – because of “the chequered patterns” – and “Squarish” – because she imagined that the creators got to the planet by dividing into squares. After adults had played around and named things, children took over and came up with ideas (see Picture 2); this time, no reasons were given for their choices. ”Mark” and ”Jack” had been the suggestions for naming the planets from children in Sheffield. They had probably been shown the previous proposed names and the reasons for them; still, they approached things differently, coming up with proper, human names (and in Britain common ones) without any other explanation.
The girl who created the drawing (“the creator” as she named herself when she posted on the platform herself and answered to her respondents) decided to use the first suggestions, and put the new names on the photo of her now final drawing using the You Doodle application on an ipad (see the Picture 3). She took the picture without the name on it, then added the names by editing the picture in YouDoodle, and then uploaded the picture (with the researcher’s help in choosing the privacy settings) on the platform and wrote the post. The post received one more comment.
Despite the fact that the creator did not choose the names suggested by her young colleagues from Sheffield, it is worth mentioning that, by naming the planets as they did, children probably wanted to appropriate them in a way that was familiar to them and this was the first step they took in the process of getting to be engaged with the planets. This has to be seen as a domestication process. On the other hand, the adults’ suggestions were conscious creative acts; by naming the two planets with new words or what is called neologisms, they extended them creatively, giving them new meanings; a performative act. The second post having the same planets as characters was initiated by adults (other graduate
students from Aarhus) who went forward with this creative process, imagining an environment for one of the planets. As can be seen in Picture 4, they cut one of the planets
out from the initial drawing and created two possible worlds inhabited by two aliens and a “lost spaceship” that could (or could not) represent another link between the two new stories of the worlds (they were already linked, as they started off from the same planets). The post explicitly prompted for the involvement of the others asking for suggestions for aliens’ names and their habits and got 14 comments, some from its authors – who explained and documented some of their processes in their creation – and some from the global community who engaged with them.
The British students took on the challenge and answered, by the voice of prof. Marsh: “C says she would call the aliens Bob and Robert. She thinks they eat any colour slime and grains of wheat. She thinks they drink leaves – they mix it up and drink it. They eat in their spare time, and they play “Cheeky Monkey”. To play this, you run around and then you go crazy, waving arms quickly.”. This represents quite likely a good example of children bringing their playground into the makerspace. They did not try hard to be creative, but just went on describing the ways in which they really play outside, in the physical playground, where their creativity come up naturally; they do mix leaves and come up with miraculous potions (that adults have to drink in a second stage), they do play Cheeky Monkey and for sure they have friends that are called Bob and Robert. Danish students from AU entered the game British kids proposed and created a short video in which one of their characters seems to play Cheeky Monkey, calling others to play with it. This time, the process of appropriation is complete and kids could now engage with the story, contributing in their way to further create into it. And they surely did, by creating two short animations (1-2 seconds each) in which two characters made with play-doh play Cheeky Monkey (Picture 5). This time, no information on how the animations had been made was provided. The kids just created something for continuing a play that was, by that moment, fully theirs.
All the posting and commenting suggest the beginning of a communication based on images, videos, questions, ideas, materials and elements of narratives. As this iteration of the Global Makerspace was relatively short in time, one can only talk about beginnings and potentials. But what is significant is never the less that this common space was driven by 3 independent makerspaces, that worked in their own right.
Reflections on The Global Makerspace
This part of our article the reader can use in two ways. One can see more about the choices that were made on materials and teacher roles during the project and one can use this part when considering future decisions. If one attentively observes what children do when they first meet in a playground, one can notice the key question: ‘Do you want to play with me?’. Some shy kids could wait for the other to come with the connecting question – meanwhile displaying their toys or their activities in an attempt to allure – but sooner or later the question emerges. Similarly, if we think ofthe global makerspace as a playground and want kids to engage with unknown others, we have to understand the importance of the direct approach. Asking for an opinion, for help or any other direct way to hook the other’s attention is required for initiating successful engagement. Furthermore, despite the familiarity of many children at this age with connected devices, the proposition of initiating engagement with a disembodied other on the other side of a screen, in another distant location thousands of miles away, living in a time zone that must seem baffling, and speaking a different language must have been in and of itself a daunting and intimidating proposition. There is much to be said and discussed about the place of the adults in a makerspace. Discussing only what we observed by participating in the team in Melbourne, we can say that adults played a significant role, although they always tried to withdraw and leave the kids to take the stage. Firstly, the adults have been the initiators of the general topic of the makerspace (Space-Spaceships and planets). Having said this, outcomes of activities from previous sessions with Dr Greg Giannis had merged with the planets theme, creating an easy to follow trajectory allowing the children to move with little effort from dismantling electronic junk to creating what could best be described as android type creatures (Picture 6) to creating a habitat (Picture 7) for these creatures that often took the form of a distant planet (Picture 8), for where else could such creatures come from? So, whilst the adults initiated the space/planet theme, the previous iteration of creativity emerged from a simple provocation, (Balchin 2016) and some children went their own way due to either they understood this text or a simple desire to follow a line of thought that was very much their own. We allowed this.
Secondly, the adults provided materials (e.g. from paper, and colored pencils, to older and broken toys to be dismantled, from glitter to tape) for kids to make with and therefore shaped in a way what they could do. It is true that, in Melbourne at least where the space was already set for a makerspace, other materials were available in boxes and once permission was given, children took the initiative to look for other materials and use them in their creation. But in general kids in a makerspace are dependent on adults for materials. A strategy to disrupt this is the use of discarded toys, electronics, etc. One outcome of the process of dismantling junk, is that the available materials can be a surprise to both the adults and the children, creating opportunities for emergent creativity as the materials are essentially an unknown quantity. Thirdly, adults provided kids with technology (digital or not) and teach them to use it efficiently and safely (from iPad to Virtual Reality system, from screwdriversto batteries, leds, engines for drawbots, etc.). This kind of initial tutoring had been given as an introduction, once a technology was presented to children. Later on, some children would ask for more help when using the technology themselves or an adult would scaffold providing supplementary explanation and help when needed. There were also instances where the children actively supported one another in the use of tools. Fourthly, the adults were involved in initiating the communication flow and most of the time in mediating it between the three teams. There are some objective reasons for this mediation (e.g. language barriers for non-English speakers, poor literacy skills at this age, lack of time for children to truly engage both in communication and in creation process in a very short period of time allotted for this project by schools). But these barriers can be overcome with the help of technology (voice recording messages, automatic translation etc.). One also could reflect on whether an unmediated communication between children at this age in an global makerspace is advisable or to be encouraged.
Almost any kind of material can find its place and be used in a makerspace. This is something to be truly encouraged as it creates myriad affordances. The beauty of this space is that it allows creation with the most common materials, as paper and crayons, to the most natural ones – tree bark, seeds, sands, leaves – or the most technologically advanced, as VR, laser cutter, 3D printing machines and that which is deemed obsolete, also known as junk. Although the discussion around this topic is far to be settled, there are many voices who agree that there is not a sine qua non material or technology in these spaces; what unifies instead all the makerspaces in a concept is rather a state of mind of the participants (an attitude of play, experimentation, exploration and art) or a common approach in which design or art making is central.
In our exploratory project of a Global Makerspace this change of the materials and the transformation of the object created by using other materials is what popped-up as an important element in keeping the flow of communication alive. In transformation of the two planets, the participants had used crayons and paper, play-doh, plastic bottles socks etc. and later on transformed them by using editing options on photos taken to the objects, created video-animation, etc. As the story of the two planets just showed, there are some notable differences between how children and adults enter into play by appropriating the story. What could be seen at a superficial level as just an act of ‘killing’ the creativity of the story from an adult’s point of view –by proposing to name the planets Mark and Jack after more fancy and made up names had been proposed – could be instead just a necessary act of domestication of the game that subsequently allows a proper entering into play. Later on, kids will exercise their creativity in this space of playing as it is familiar to them. What should be stressed here is that if the creativity was the frame of reference for adults, for kids this frame was the very playing process, and playfulness is a precursor or enabler of creativity.
Entering the playground
Finally, the last point that we want to propose for reflection is the ending point; how should one withdraw from a communication/creation process without disturbing the process? For example, the withdraw was smoothed in the case of the creator of the two planets and the play continued afterward, but it can happen that some questions are left without an answer, or some creation passed uncommented or un-appreciated and this can create some disappointment or even frustration for kids. A good understanding of the culture of these spaces, where sometimes kids have to cope with other’s critics, challenges but also with lack of attention is maybe a precondition of its success. And in this point adults have an important role to play in educating children about these challenges and ensuring a friendly space where kids could thrive.
On a final note, consider the consequences of a lack of an end point. What affordances are created when the adult does not dictate an outcome or theme, and there is on-going access?
Where tools and materials are provided and only instruction in the safe operation of those tools is given, and the role of the adult is supervisory. Dr Greg Giannis conducted such a makerspace at a school that operated after hours and children came and used what resources were available at their leisure. Many children thrived in this environment as there were very few constraints, and the space operated more like a collective artists/tinkering studio. Parents & guardians also frequented the space and were as equally, if not more so engaged. Perhaps this is the context under which a makerspace can come into its full potential, free of curriculum requirements and other inhibiting conditions, where children can explore at their leisure, socialise, co-learn, play and truly follow their own interests. The question remains how future versions of a global makerspace might increase the support of play and experiments while establishing a virtual playground as part of the communication. One thing is the platform itself, but another thing is the ability to be open to sources of inspiration from others outside the classroom or the makerspace. Is the pedagogy open or closed to what might come unexpectedly (Pedersen 2019, Thestrup & Pedersen 2019)? The global makerspace was a co-operation between 3 schools and as it is indicated above that the themes, the platform and the communication were partly framed in advance by researchers in the same project. But what if complete strangers did meet? What if the initial differences were smaller than expected or bigger, maybe simply unknown or simply changing through the co-operation? It has to play an important part in the process to be able to understand, to relate to and to alter possible differences into productive encounters.
The use of material, tools, processes and intentions might not only be more or less alike or different, but this use might also be closed. The actual pedagogical methods are probably meant to function in a closed space like an ordinary classroom, makerspace or even a playground. To be able to react to new impulses, the pedagogy has to be open to new ways of using materials or tools and therefore also new processes and maybe even new intentions. In the local makerspace the very methods might expand into other ways of experimenting and playing, that might enrich the activities. The pre-school teacher and the children involved has to be ready for this but then again, that is a central part of such a project to be ready for this and act upon it. One might even claim that in times of cultural and economic globalization, it is needed to investigate, work and play together to get to understand each other and to start solve global challenges together. The global makerspace is one platform for starting to do this. This article is a one small step in that direction.
Last but not least the authors would like to thank all the participants, children and adults, who contributed to this project and also to principals and teachers of the schools who made this project possible!
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