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From Cardboard to Code: Creating with Multiple Materials

From Cardboard to Code: Creating with Multiple Materials

Last month, we hosted a workshop using the newly launched creative coding app OctoStudio at the FabLearn conference. This workshop was a collaboration between our Tinkering Studio team, colleagues from CU Boulder, Colorado and the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. Our workshop participants came from various places including Japan, Egypt, Brazil, and the US, and they were educators and researchers from universities, schools, maker spaces, and museums. It was great to have such a diverse group!

Ryoko and Sebastian introduce a coding activity in front of a large cardboard house


OctoStudio is a free mobile coding app created by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. It's a playful, intuitive, and engaging app that lets learners snap photos, record sounds, and then use coding blocks to turn them into their own interactive stories and games, all on their phones or tablets. 

A hand holds a phone with the OctoStudio app open


The workshop title was “Tinker with a View” We posed an open-ended prompt to our participants: "What do you see out of your window?"


This prompt can be taken literally or metaphorically. We brought this large cardboard house with empty windows for inspiration but we encouraged the participants to expand their interpretations by exploring various "windows" around us such as picture frames, car windows, portholes, ovens, or even abstract views into outer or inner spaces. 

We hoped this open-ended concept of “windows” would make the activity feel welcoming and accessible to everyone.

As examples, we shared some useful blocks to start with:  [Tap to start] and [Magnet to start]

a set of coding blocks from OctoStudio


To spark imagination, we shared two contrasting examples: one with a simple, everyday scene just outside a window highlighting the [Tap to start] block, and the other with an imaginative narrative centering on a fireplace highlighting the [Magnet to start] block.

Participants in an Octostudio workshop


In the workshop, participants created a wide range of projects, each enriched with its own unique narrative. The availability of materials such as cardboard fostered a welcoming environment and helped in more easily knowing what others were working on. For example, one participant was creating a porthole with cardboard. I didn't have to be right next to her to see what she was doing; the project, which was mixed with physical and digital, communicated a lot. The tangible nature of these projects not only helped me as a facilitator but also enhanced the interactions between participants, fostering a more collaborative and engaging environment.

One comment particularly resonated with me:

'I really liked the space for creative exploration - not just to code - but with cardboard, paper, and other materials - I arrived late and wasn't sure if I could explore all the things in the app - but could still have something - I liked physical/digital space for exploration.' 

This comment highlights one of the strengths of computational tinkering activities: they offer multiple entry points. I liked the fact that even for someone who joined late and had a very limited time, there was something for everyone. She was able to create a hand figure craft and combine with a digital coffee on the screen to tell her morning story. 

A participant shares an OctoStudio project that features a cup of coffee


OctoStudio has a feature called 'beam block' that allows interaction between phones. One participant discovered this block and immediately started experimenting with someone nearby to see if a sprite can travel from one screen to another. Then two other participants working nearby were impressed by that and decided to collaborate, connecting their projects. 'Let's connect' took on a double meaning as they not only connected their projects but also formed a new collaborative relationship. I was amazed to see how OctoStudio naturally supports collaboration and interaction among people.



When people think about coding activities on personal computers, some people might associate it with an inherently ‘individual’ activity. I was concerned that this ‘solo’ feeling might grow stronger with the transition to mobile devices, as the smaller screens might further encapsulate the experience within an even more personal bubble. However, the workshop pleasantly showed this wasn't the case. It demonstrated that, irrespective of screen size, the integration of physical and digital worlds, and the facilitation of sharing and collaborative work, can create a vibrant, learner-centered learning environment that transcends the traditional boundaries of personal computing. I’m looking forward to further exploring the potential for computational tinkering activities that OctoStudio can facilitate! 


National Science Foundation Official Logo


This project is generously supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2005764.