After the previous day's chaos and confusion, we knew something had to change in the space in order to make the interactions between facilitators and the public meaningful, and to provide a positive experience to us and them. Throughout the day we de-briefed with each group of facilitators as they finished their shifts, talked about what we could do or change to make the situation more manageable, and together came up with a list of modifications that were hugely helpful.
We mainly concentrated on the Wind Tubes area and the Scribbling Machines area. One tube took a hit (and is currently being repaired by the valiant Ahmed), so we took it off the floor, and we decided to create a "sacrificial" wind tube, on a low table, to take the brunt of the younger kids, who might just want to toss something that was already made in it. We moved it more centrally into the space, and created a more protected "inner" area with a work table, a materials bin, and a taller wind tube, so that kids who might want to work on creating a flying contraption might have a calmer eddy to do so.
We also moved around all of the available cardboard tube wall to create an enclosed workshop space around the Scribbling Machines table and the Cabinet of Curiosities. We all agreed that it is more important to provide a great tinkering experience for fewer people than to try to serve everyone a mediocre one. We decided to post volunteers at the entrance to act as guards and politely turn people away once the workshop was full, and give the two facilitators in the space more room to breathe and the ability to practice their skills instead of being inundated with people. This also helped up keep the Cabinet safe from excited kids' hands and the occasional piece walking away.
We also put up a sign with an age limitation and an idea of what we're doing in here. This was also meant to help the volunteers point to the "official" word when needing to tell parents that their kids were too young to play. And here I have to give huge props to our volunteers, especially Zahra and Sara, who took a lot of verbal abuse from irate parents that could not believe we would think their kids were too young to do this. Some things do not change, no matter where in the world you are... But they never lost their smile, and stood firm.
The other thing that helped enormously was that Saudi Aramco decided the crowds were too intense, and started a new policy: only a certain number of people were allowed in the tent at a time, so that the place never got too crowded. They also were much more diligent about keeping the doors closed until opening, and making people leave at closing time. The space was still full, but not mobbed like the day before.
And finally, we reworked the materials for each activity, generally thinning them out and eliminating things. This initially seemed like a strange solutions to the facilitators, since one of the problems we identified was a lack of innovation and an abundance of imitation (more on this later...), but we reasoned that with limitations comes resourcefulness, and so we narrowed wind tubes materials to baskets and derders only, and we put out fewer of everything at marble machines.
So, with those changes in place, the doors opened and the first visitors started flooding in. We braced for another onslaught, but were pleasantly surprised that the numbers stayed at very manageable levels, and by how much the whole feeling of the space changed from one day to the next.
The workshop space immediately proved to be a success. It felt pleasantly full in there, with room for only 10 people (plus the occasional accompanying parent), and the facilitators were able to start thinking about the stuff that really matters: how to get people started, and help them along the activity.
One thing that has become a major focus for us is the issue of imitation. Here is the initial example that we put on the table to seed things, and with minimal variations, barring some notable exceptions, people made replicas of the same thing.
This has become such a prevalent occurrence that it deserves its own dedicated blog post, but certainly for us Tinkering Studio folks it came as a surprise, and we've all been trying to figure out ways to break the pattern...
Today was also Abdulrahman's last day, as he embarks on his next adventure pursuing a master at MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten. It was very sad to see him go, and we're really on our own now!