Guest post written by Ryan Jenkins, co-founder and managing director of Wonderful Idea Co, an experimental studio that explores art, science and technology through making and tinkering. Ryan was a core member of the Tinkering Studio from 2009 to 2017 and is excited to return for a new project with the team to develop open-ended, unfacilitated (or lightly facilitated) tinkerable experiences using a wide range of tools and materials.
This post is also available on the Wonderful Idea Co blog.
The third week at the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio has been full of interesting observations, inspiring collaborations and new ideas about the various ‘uftes’ (unfacilitated tinkerable experiences) that we’re developing for the museum floor. There are four separate themes that we are working on, including balancing sculptures, ramps and rollers, sound machines and shadow remix, and we’ve made some serious progress on all of them this week.
Early in the week, we returned to our balance explorations. Some things that we’re thinking about include how to create an entry point for participants, give them motivation to build, and find an authentic way to tinker with phenomena.
One of the ways that we’d like to do that is by experimenting what happens when you add in more emphasis on characters and narrative. These could be either turning the sculpture into a creature, adding things like monkeys or leaves to something like a tree or building colorful and abstract shapes.
To try to build more ownership and agency for participants, we’re also testing out different possible starting point. As a more scaled down approach, Sebastian is working on includes wooden dowels, clothespins and weights. There could be a nice initial interaction with three sided and four sided starters. We’ll try this version next week with visitors in the Tinkering Studio.
In the early part of the week, we also worked on refining our kit of parts for the ramps and rollers activity. We previously identified a set of materials including tubes, wooden balls, dowels, washers and straw spacers. This week we continued experimenting and added discs with a radial pattern of holes for the dowels to fit into. We even had our friend and guest-tinkerer Gever Tulley come in and play around a bit with us as he was helping to install the Mars project from Tinkering Studio for after dark.
This has led to the creation of a sort of taxonomy of different designs including off-set wheels, a big and small connected roller, the weighted slider and even a jittering lobster like creature.
That weighted ‘creature’ was a big challenge for us to create and we worked late one of the evenings in the Learning Studio fine tuning the design. It’s not quite the type of interaction that we’re expecting for visitors in the activity, but it’s important that there are ‘high ceiling’ challenges available to learners in these uftes.
Another fun element that Sebastian thought up for the ‘ufte’ environment was a ramp with staring points and ending places on either side so that the examples/creations don’t all end up at one place. I quickly mocked up a version with honey-comb cardboard that was light enough to move around but sturdy enough to use for a couple of days on the floor.
On Thursday we tried the new ramp in the tinkering studio with a video of examples, a couple of signs explaining the activity and a materials station for building. It wasn’t a very crowded day at the museum but we got to see a couple families interacting with the ramps/rollers set-up. They spent a while testing out pre-made rollers and building there own. We have a lot of new ideas for examples and arrangements after just this short test!
And this week we also started prototyping in earnest for the fourth ‘ufte’ that we’ll be working on for the project. This one was inspired by the tinkering@home explorations of capturing shadows and then re-imagining them both with physical and digital artmaking tools.
Steph has been thinking about how to turn this experience into a museum experience and we’re working on two directions so far. One is remixing with physical objects that are magnetic. Steph made a set of geometric shapes and hands/eyes/feet to add to the experience.
The other option is a digital remixing option. Eventually we’re interested in making a customized app for the ufte but for now, Steph made a scratch program that simulates the process of illustrating on top of shadows. The advantages of digital shadow remixing means that we can potentially share project in a gallery or even create opportunities for people at the museum to collaborate with others online.
In a little prototyping session on Thursday we experimented with different arrangements for the computer, the lights and the shadow casting materials. These experiments will inform out tests with visitors next week in the museum.
And back at home in LA on Friday I made another version using a projector and a computer to try to display the creations in the space. I think that this could be really interesting to develop further with coders and software developers that we’ll collaborate with for these experiences. I can’t believe that there’s only one more week left in the residency. It’s been a whirlwind time building, talking and testing and I’m really excited to see the next steps for all of these museum experiences.
The LEGO Playful Learning Museum Network initiative is made possible through generous support from the LEGO Group.