Once upon a time there was a lonely philosopher, who had been lost in his own thoughts for so long, it was impossible for him to come up with a single new idea, he realized he needed something to jump his memory, he needed help.
So he walked out of the door and on to the road… “It’s a dangerous business, going out of your door,” he said. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”(Frodo Baggins about Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring, Three is Company, J.R.R. Tolkien)
Chapter 1 – A vision
To begin with the old philosopher walked by a playground, a school, and he came across a young, spirited and red-haired scientist, she talked and talked with a swirl of words, he thought she would never stop, but then as abruptly as she had arrived she disappeared again. The old man, though very disturbed by this female scientist, was somehow inspired by her enthusiasm. “What was it she talked about? Something about design processes, prototypes and mock-ups”. She had definitely talked an awful lot about children learning through play.
As lightning, it hit him the old philosopher had an idea… I will create a ball, so capable, so fun so specified in its use the world has never seen the like of it. The old man was happy and content he had devised an idea! But who would use his ball? Who would recognize the splendor of his creation?
The voice of the enthusiastic scientist kept nagging in the back of his mind, “You need knowledge about what already exists in order to create something new”.
The old philosopher passed through a park where another red-haired person was fooling around, curious “Is this a new species of mankind?” he went closer. This specimen was a male he was juggling and having fun with a ball and some children. They were engaged in what looked like circus training. Children were throwing balls in the air, playing around with weird looking artifacts and trying to ride a unicycle. What struck the old man the most, was that all the kids participating had simply been passing through the park, where they had met this juggler, who had just brought all his stuff to the park in order to create a “playspace” in it, a space where children had the opportunity to play around with his gear, in this way sharing his passion for play.
Weary after all the excitement the old man walked back to the school, hopefully there would be some peace and quiet, but on the contrary the children he saw there were drawing horrible figures and telling frightful stories about ghosts and the like all the while learning the alphabet, these figures were somehow connected to the letters, and the children were “drawing and acting” the letters out loud. The philosopher found this sort of playful participation interesting and he was compelled to stay and observe these children for some time. At some point the old philosopher realized that the toy, the ball or whatever they were handling, it was just a simple artifact, the truly interesting potential to study in this context was the manner in which the learners were bringing play and the natural togetherness into their learning contexts (Resnick, 2007).
The old man sat down and mulled over the didactical view of his observations. He knew that the educational world was based on didactics, so it was an important thing to think about. Being a philosopher he reflected over the core aspects of didactics, and found that the essential thing must be, to want something to happen in a certain way, and therefore use specific artifacts, actions or dynamics to make something happen (Qvortrup & Wiberg, 2013). He was a man of vision, purpose and ambition; he searched the nerve of his intent and came up with the following
The Vision is:
To create a learning space, build upon children’s natural curiosity and play mood (Resnick, 2007).
The Purpose is:
To secure an environment where the skills children learn are core competences strongly connected with 21st century learning skills (Illomâki, Kantosalo & Lakkala 2011)
The Ambition is:
To design a process that can help teachers create these learning spaces as a natural part of their different school contexts.
Bering in mind the speed with which digital fabrication tools enter the school systems, this designerly theory becomes highly relevant. The product is not a tangible artifact that can easily be put into production, not even a descriptive recipe for a fabrication that will support a learning process. No, his design is a far more fundamental designerly theory. It is seminal – as this design will initiate a new trend in learning theory and didactical method.
Chapter 2 – The workshop
Cheerful at heart and happy with his newly discovered insights, the old philosopher gave some thought to his next exploration “How could these reflections be transferred into a meaningful context”. What was it the scientist had talked about? Mock-ups, prototypes and design processes. “I must find some children and have them help me, then I can try out my ideas in a real setting” he thought. He grabbed a pen and paper and began making a sketch of a workshop program – after a while he leaned back deep in thoughts. Yes this was it… satisfied with his achievement he dozed of.
Workshop about mechanics and digital fabrications:
With the starting point of a normal ball and the qualities it possesses I would like to have the participants of the workshop (children in their first years of school) do a practical mock-up assignment. The children are going to be divided into small groups (app. 3 pr. group), and each group is given the same introduction and initial assignment for the workshop. The time limit of the workshop is going to be 45 minutes maximum. As a bonus I will be able to do some observations on their natural way of finding solutions to the assignment.
I am going to introduce the topic of the workshop, by presenting a ball as a designer thinking of possibilities as well as current uses.
Thereafter the participants are going to be presented with the following assignment:
With these different materials you can try to re-design or perhaps create a new design of a “ball”.
Materials: tennis ball, tape, bouncing balls, footballs, strings, bells, stones, balloons, flamingo, sand, Lego and so on.
1. Begin by talking about your “ball”, what is it supposed to do? (5 min.)
2. Choose which materials to use and then build or draw a mock-up of your “ball” (15 min.)
3. Discuss what sort of materials or tools you will need in order to make your design functional. Every idea is a good idea (10 min.)
The intention behind the workshop is to tap into the ideas of an intended user group in order to get a feel of what they might need in the design – what they are missing in regards to the possibilities of the original artifact.
The philosopher looked at his paper, happy with what he had done so far, now he only needed to find some children who were willing to try out the workshop in order for him to see what changes their interactions and participation would make to his initial vision and thoughts on the design, “would they change the course of his design process?”
Chapter 3 – Post workshop thoughts
The old philosopher went out into the world and tried to find participants for this workshop. Luckily he found that this was a rather easy task. He soon found a group of children in an after school club who agreed to participate – surprised by the number of children, who would gladly help him, the old philosopher noted with regret that his supply of material would not be adequate for the number of enthusiastic participants in this workshop. Keeping cheerful and in a playful mood he show the participants different kinds of balls and they all gave answers to the possible uses of the balls, but when asked to think creatively, out of the box, regrettably the children were looking into the box to figure out what’s possible with the material at hand. In spite of this misconception the old philosopher was thrilled with the creative and playful approach the learners showed towards the task, he found their results inspiring and the whole process breathtaking. “I learned vital lessons today” thought the philosopher. One of them was when a 7 year old girl was picked up by her mother, poor thing anyone could tell from the look of that girls face, that she was disturbed in the middle of something very important. She did not want to step out of the play mood, she had not yet finished her construction, but unfortunately her plea for more time was dismissed. “Never disrupt a child when absorbed in a creative phase, you disrupt a valuable learning process”, the old man concluded.
The old philosopher, high on his observations and experiences with his first workshop, decided to make his wrongs right, sure he could do better; he searched to find new participants for a second workshop. He came across a kindergarten class who would like to participate. Now, reflecting upon the experiences from the first workshop, he made important changes to his plan. “In order to make the best possible workshop I need to remember the following”.
1. Don’t show the learners the box with materials until after their 5min. ideation phase
2. Lengthen the construction phase where they draw or build their low fidelity prototype
Why was it he needed to change anything? Could he have anticipated this or…? He might have foreseen the consequences, but he didn’t. Now, he would experience the difference, and this would probably give more strength to his arguments later on.
The second workshop was a raging success. The participants were enthusiastic and eager. They were given an introduction to an ideation face, where the philosopher presented a ball, and in a dialog the participants came up with many diverse suggestions to what a ball was, is and could be. After this introduction the philosopher gave the children time to form small design teams. Every team was given a paper, and lively discussions took place while the teams were trying to decide what their design potentials were.
After this ideation phase, the prototyping began. “Prototype is a hard word for a 6 year old”, the old philosopher thought. So, after his workshop he felt great pride and a little surprised when he heard the children actually use the word when describing to peers what they had been working on.
The participants were given 45 minutes to produce their initial prototype; the room was lit with excitementand it dawned on the philosopher “Maybe there is not enough time?”
After the 45 minutes of prototyping each team presented their design for the entire group and asked the philosopher “When will you come back?” It was clear that after this presentation, the children had arrived at new ideas for their design – following Carroll’s (Carroll 1999) thoughts on how the design process could take place it was clear to the philosopher he needed to come back. Already reflections were roaming in his head; he would devise a plan for workshop number 3, this time for the same group in order for the participants to revise their design according to new ideas based on the other groups’ prototype ideas.
Chapter 4 – Bringing it all together
Tired and overwhelmed by the latest experience the old philosopher needed to put down in words how wonderful life is when approaching it from a child’s point of view. The philosopher felt blessed by the newly found source and potential he had seen in the children’s designerly learning processes.
The workshops he had carried out so far, contributed to the initial thoughts he made during observations. He had seen how knowledge was constructed from experience and learners should be encouraged to create and experiment with objects and materials when- and wherever possible (Papert 1980). This, he thought, supported the didactical core that he reflected upon earlier, before he had completed the workshops. He remembered the term tinker, “as learners become comfortable with moments when their understanding is challenged by the results of their own designs, they become more engaged, spent more time investigating and/or constructing and take ownership for and build confidence in their abilities to learn and understand” (Petrich, Wilkinson & Bevan, 2013). The old philosopher saw how his workshop had made the participants tinkers, building confidence and taking ownership of their own learning process.
This way of thinking learning as supported by the action oriented didactics which aim is to give the learners an influence on decisions pointing towards both the product and the process (Qvortrup & Wiberg, 2013, p 345).
The old philosopher wondered, how he could create this learning space that he had thought of earlier. He knew that play and togetherness was more important for children then learning, he had seen that during the workshop, so maybe he should transform the idea of a learning space into a learning process instead; a learning process that support a playful participatory designerly way of thinking learning. Designing for such a context, there are some key aspects to remember; Emphasize process over product – to much focus on the end goal is going to take the heart out of the project, set themes – not challenges, give freedom to explore – be specific enough to give the participants the sensation of a shared experience, pose questions instead of giving answers – think alternatives aloud (Resnick & Rosenbaum, 2013). He learned from the first workshop that, showing the participants the available materials before they had gone through the ideation process, limited their freedom of thought and killed some of the creativity in the process.
By using materials, interactions with others and mastery of tasks and skills to progress through levels of play children develop a sense of control of their environment and a feeling of competence and enjoyment that they can learn (Dodds, 2009, page 151).
The old philosopher sat down fatigued by all these thoughts about play, ideation, creativity phases, and social interactions among children. He remembered how his old teachers were very strict about what they should learn and how they should learn things back when he was a student. The old philosopher was closing in gathering the pieces and forming a concluding thought “ Teachers need to let go more, they need to let the learners explore in a learning space of their own”, tinkering with their own learning processes”. The teachers need to design their learning projects with an open-ended design. “Open-endedness is about making conscious choices in the design process on what is going to be designed and what is going to be left open for the children to interpret while interacting with the design” (Walk, Bekker & Eggen, 2013).
He thought, his initial vision was still a solid one, a vision that he could continue to work with, but now he felt he had established a solid base a fundament to support his vision. He knew his base was build upon the observations of young children, but well versed in the theories, he was confident that his way of thinking could be taken to a higher level of learning theories and studies.
Chapter 5 – An adventure book
Choose your own path through this adventure of a design process.
Chapter 6 – The future
On the basis of observations and workshops the philosopher has tried to visualize how the future teaching scenarios should differ from the common teaching practice of today.
The philosopher is a visualization of the groups thoughts and doings throughout the project so far. Being designers we wanted to rethink the way an academic process was presented, therefore we chose this designerly way. We hope you as a reader was inspired by this and maybe in the future you would also like to rethink your own way of presenting.
Dodds, S – ‘we want to play’: Primary children at play in the classroom. Chapter 6 in in Brock, A., Dodds, S., Jarvis, P., & Olusoga, Y. – Perspectives on Play: Learning for life. Pearson Education Limited
Resnick, M. (2007). All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten. ACM Creativity & Cognition conference. Washington DC, June 2007.
Petrich, M., Wilkinson, K. and Bevan, B. – It looks like fun, but are they learning. Chapter 5 in Honey, M. & Kanter, D.E. – Design | Make | Play – Routledge
Resnick, M. & Rosenbaum, E. – Designing for tinkerbility. Chapter 10 in Honey, M. & Kanter, D.E. – Design | Make | Play – Routledge
Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. Basic Books
Bengtsen, S. S. E. & Qvortrup, A. chapter 12 – Qvortrup, A. & Wiberg, M. ( red.)  – ”Læringsteori & Didaktik”, Hans Reitzels forlag
Keiding, Tina Bering & Wiberg, Merete chapter 14 – Qvortrup, A. & Wiberg, M. ( red.)  – ”Læringsteori & Didaktik”, Hans Reitzels forlag
Carroll, John M. (1999) Five Reasons for Scenario-Based Design
Valk, L., Bekker, T. and Eggen, B. (2013). Leaving Room for Improvisation: Towards a Design Approach for Open-ended Play. In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’13). ACM, New York, pp. 92-101