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Cross-country Collaboration: LEGO Playful Learning Museum Network

Cross-country Collaboration: LEGO Playful Learning Museum Network
Collaborators from the Tinkering Studio, Boston Children's Museum, and Connecticut Science Center smiling and walking in the sunshine.

In 2021, the LEGO Foundation started a community of practice called the LEGO Playful Learning Museum Network (PLMN). A shared commitment to playful learning binds our 17 member institutions together: we all believe in the power and value of approaches to learning that center joy, collaboration, and play. By bringing together a group of people committed to this approach in a variety of communities and contexts, we're able to work together to confront shared challenges and develop best practices. 

 

Prototyping Remote Prototyping

That said, how to best work together across multiple time zones in varied settings with different constraints and pedagogical approaches isn't always obvious. The ways that we work together within this network continue to be an area of learning and experimentation for us. We sometimes call what we're doing prototyping remote prototyping: we're trying out different ways of prototyping at a distance. We often reflect on not just what we're doing, but how we're doing it. We ask questions like...

  • When do we meet synchronously? (Usually once a month, with subgroups that meet around certain areas of interest as they emerge).  
     
  • How do we share rough prototypes and half-baked ideas in between? (Mainly on Slack, where we've tried to create an informal space where it feels comfortable to share things before they're polished).
     
  • How can we meaningfully give feedback on physical materials from afar? (A lot of photos and videos, mixed in with magical opportunities to get together in person). 

In terms of in person moments of magic, Michael and I had the opportunity to meet up with colleagues from Boston Children’s Museum and Connecticut Science Center in 2023. Brendan Takenaga from the Boston Children's Museum hosted us, and we each set up materials for exploring light and shadow that we developed and use at our own museums. Online, we can hand each other ideas and feedback. In person, we could physically hand each other materials. Brendan could pull in other colleagues from the Boston Children's Museum to weigh in on approaches to working with learners of different ages. Nick Villagra, Nate Gagnon, and Andrew Fotta from Connecticut Science Center could set up their light and shadow explorations, and we could workshop and combine it with components from our sets. Maybe most importantly, we could debrief our explorations over a meal, and learn about each person's ways into this work in the first place. A deep sense of trust is a core part of what allows our team at the Tinkering Studio to so readily share half-baked ideas and iterate on them collaboratively, so it's no surprise that key moments of coming together strengthen our ability to work together.

 

Two photos of collaborators from different museums looking at light and shadow set ups together
A series of light and shadow explorations

 

Tinkering Inventive Play Sets (TIPS)

As part of this network, in addition to our recent light and shadow idea shares, we've been developing playful learning experiences we're calling Tinkering Inventive Play Sets: durable sets of parts that support open-ended explorations of real world phenomena, and that learners and educators can return to again and again. Our initial experiences center around three areas: 

two participants build a balancing sculpture together
Balance

Build a kinetic sculpture that balances on a single point. As learners create with everyday materials and colorful shapes, they compose a moving art piece. 

 

A person plays with rhythm blocks
Rhythm Blocks

Tinker with mechanisms to create sound patterns. By arranging instruments on a magnetic surface that keeps everything in place, participants create beats and patterns. 

Visitors to the museum roll interesting materials down a ramp
Rollers

Combine parts to construct rollers that move in whimsical ways or make surprising sounds as they scoot, wobble, and tumble down a wide wooden ramp.

More to Explore

  • Listen to a Big and Little Podcast episode featuring Michael Wong from the Tinkering Studio along with Nick Villagra from Connecticut Science Center and Brendan Takenaga from Boston Children's Museum as they talk about creativity through collaboration. 
     
  • Read this series of blog posts by Ryan Jenkins, our collaborator at Wonderful Idea Co. for a window into the development process of different TIPS experiences.