This is the first in a series of blog posts about our current Tinkering Studio projects and initiatives shared at the Exploratorium's 2022 Trade Show. You can read more in followup posts about Tinkering in the Community, Everyone Belongs in Tinkering, Designing for Connection, Creating Far-reaching Communities of Practice, and Learning Through Play.
Working at the Exploratorium means constantly being inspired by all of the different teams doing work driven by curiosity and creativity. Last week, the museum held an internal trade show as a chance for our various groups to share that work with one another. At the Tinkering Studio, we treated the trade show as an opportunity to (1) invite people to try out a tinkering activity and (2) illustrate some of the big ideas that guide our work with concrete examples from current or recent projects.
We decided to share Making Faces, a tinkering activity inspired by artist Hanoch Piven's whimsical portraits made out of everyday objects. We chose this activity for a few reasons: it makes space for people to share little pieces of their identities (including their sense of humor); it uses everyday materials in unfamiliar ways; it can be taken even further with computational tools, like stop motion and code; and we've only ever facilitated this activity online, so this seemed like the perfect chance to try it out in person. Read more about the activity setup below.
Behind the Scenes
We set up our trade show booth space based on a beautiful sketch by Luigi:
Trying to capture the highlight's of our work was a collaborative challenge! We used a Miro board as a shared workspace to collect and organize our ideas. Each project team worked on a panel.
Once we landed on the digital version, we turned it into a physical reality. Deanna did a major Office Depot run, Jake came up with a fantastic system of textured rope arrows, and we laid everything out in the Learning Studio!
For the activity, we chose ring light stands as a source of illumination to provide even light, but as an added bonus they came with a phone holder; we encouraged visitors to put their own phone in the holder as they started working on their own self portrait, and get a timelapse going using the built-in function available to most phones. We found that, in tinkering activities, often the final product does not tell the whole story of all the thinking, mistakes, dead ends, back-tracks, and sudden insights that lead to it, and we thought that capturing more of the process could better represent what goes into each final portrait.
The challenge of selecting materials for this activity in a drop-in setting is that we cannot know ahead of time what people will find that it connects with aspects of their identity or personality, so we had to make a very wide initial selection and use a bit of intuition. Over time, as we repeat this experience with different visitors, age ranges, and settings, we might pare down the list of materials as we notice what tends to get used more often, or as we listen to comments from participants.