For the past couple of months we've been experimenting with cardboard automata in the tinkering studio as our weekday workshop activity. It's been a bit of a challenge to have this activity running consistently in the workshop for several reasons. This activity takes a long period of time (from 1-2 hours), uses tools like glue guns and exacto knives, and can be more of a step by step activity. We've tried cardboard automata in workshop settings but as with other activities, experimenting with the activity for an extended time on the floor has expanded the possibilities of the activity. We've been learning so much from visitors who have been creating amazing and unique challenges for themselves.
As well, we've been creating small, but meaningful changes in the environment and activity design to help support participants. Many deserve their own posts but here are a couple of my favorites experiments so far:
One new thing that we've tried is creating a table of already made examples for people to test out before they try the activity. Some are very simple and others are quite complex. Though we started with all pre-made examples, over time the example table has become about half automata made by us and half visitor creations that they couldn't take with them. At first we were worried that the fragile automata wouldn't survive on the museum floor, but we've been impressed that visitors have been gentle with the creations while examining and testing them. Having something for people to do as well as books and resources out has helped to mitigate some of the potential problems with having a age limit on the workshop space and a maximum number of people who can come
Another small technological advancement that we've came up with early in the summer was using paper straws instead of clear plastic ones to hold the cam follower in place. The plastic parts proved to be an especially difficult challenge to hot glue in place because thin plastic straw can quickly warp and melt with the heat.
It's amazing how long we did automata in workshops without realizing this easy hack! We've found that when trying activities everyday on the floor we are able to make quicker advancements with activity design. Little advancements make a big difference in moving the frustrating elements of the activity away from materials that don't work well to the interesting challenges that people create for themselves. Thus, a big part of the R&D process for us is figuring out ways that people can be focuses on their own problems and not get stuck on a not-quite-right material.
As we continue to reflect on our experiences faciliating cardboard automata on the floor of the museum this summer, expect more in-depth posts about specific elements of the activity and our process of developing the workshop.