Sir Ken Robinson: Creativity vs Schools

We spent the end of the day yesterday watching all of Sir Ken’s TED talks. I’m slightly embarrassed to be the 46 millionth human to see his first one from 2006, but there you go.

He speaks about how fostering creativity in kids has been squashed by education systems that are oriented towards testing and standards and entry into university, and not respectful of diverse types of intelligence and different human capacities.

Here are the three talks in case you’d like to watch them:

I was taking notes as we watched them, and here are some highlights that stood out for me:

  • “Creativity is as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
  • “Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go.”
  • “We don’t grow into creativity. We grow out of it. Or rather, we’re educated out of it.”
  • “Suddenly, degrees aren’t worth anything.”
  • Intelligence is diverse, dynamic, and distinct.
  • “Education dislocates people from their natural talents.
  • “Human communities depend upon a diversity of talents, not a singular conception of ability.” How can we reconstitute our sense of ability and intelligence?
  • Lots of education doesn’t feed passion. “Teaching properly conceived is not a delivery mechanism.”
  • “If you sit kids down hour after hour doing low grade clerical work it’s not surprising they’ll fidget.”

Feedback from Teachers

Boxes we’ve made to date have been about creating complete sets of objects around a theme like Ancient Egypt: Daily Lives, or Frogs of North America, and, while we definitely think there’s a lot of utility in being able to create a replete set to deliver (perhaps to younger kids), we’ve been exploring ideas around more serialised delivery of box contents, so object-based enquiry builds themes and knowledge over time, prompting students to do independent research as the collection builds.

We’ve also heard over and again from teachers that they see great potential for a type of Museum in a Box that kids could construct themselves. We’d deliver the core elements (Brain/Stickers/Software), and the kids would invent their own sets of objects and content, and make a museum they’re into.

We love this idea — and I think it plays into Robinson’s thread of “learning that’s customised to local circumstances” — so we’d like to let you know we have started R&D on a product line called Make Your Own box as a result.

We’ll need some time, but, we’ve heard clearly that this sort of exploratory, self-directed, cross-curricular exercise would be great for teachers and their students, so we plan to try to meet that demand.

Stay tuned as we pilot this idea – we’ll let you know how we’re getting along! And if you’re a teacher who’s interested to help us during the pilot, please get in touch.

Charlie DoES Liverpool

Last week Charlie hopped on a train up to Liverpool to hang out with our tech lead Adrian, here’s an account of what he got up to:

DoES Liverpool

Having never been to Liverpool before I jumped at the chance to make the two or so hour train ride to visit Adrian who is based at DoES Liverpool, a maker space which he co-founded in 2011.

On arrival I was introduced to all of the friendly faces, claimed a desk and set my intro music to a piece by Frédéric Chopin (the space is rigged to play an audio file when you ‘tap-in’ in the morning). I was also introduced to the talking fridge, the gesture bin and the internet-connected coffee machine. Welcome to the wonderful world of DoES Liverpool!

The space is divided between the co-working space and the workshop which has a wealth of kit including two laser cutters (Gerald & Sophia) and several 3D printers. I arrived with a list of things I wanted to get done and so wasted no time with cracking on.

Cardboard Experiment

One experiment I had a chance to play with and develop was a cardboard Museum in a Box. I’d prepped a flimsy mock-up in London and was pretty chuffed with the outcome so decided to refine a neater version in the workshop at DoES. This was also a useful opportunity to try out a different internal configuration and a new way to access the tech inside the box.

Architecture

Being a bit of an architecture enthusiast, spending time in Liverpool was a dream because the buildings vividly tell the story of a busy port city, its development and importance at the time of its height in the British Empire. I’ve dreamed of an ‘architectural box’ for some time now and a tour around the docks provided the inspiration to start just that. Towns and cities across England are littered with great lessons and examples of great architecture but unless you can decode what you are looking at it’s hard to truly interpret and appreciate it. The author and illustrator Matthew Rice says it nicely:

‘Once you can speak any language, conversations can begin, but without it communications can only be brief and brutish. The same is the case with Architecture: an inability to describe the component parts of a building leaves one tongue-tied and unable to begin to discuss what is or is not exciting, dull or peculiar about it.’

Garstang Museum of Archaeology

Adrian and I managed to squeeze in a trip to the Garstang Museum, a museum named after Professor John Garstang, who founded the ‘Institute of Archaeology’ and associated museum in 1904.

Despite its modest size it’s packed with fascinating objects, most of which were excavated by Garstang in Egypt, the Sudan, and the Near East; the collection also contains almost twenty collections of glass-plate negatives relating to Garstang’s archaeological work in these areas. Several of the images have been enlarged and line the walls of the museum providing a fantastic insight into the world of archaeology in the early 20th century.

Something that struck me was the amazing collection of Shabti that are on display in one of the exhibition spaces. Shabti were funerary figures who accompanied the deceased to the after-life, left alongside them inside their tombs. The poorest people may not have had any but even those tombs of modest size would have contained at least one or two Shabti. Those on display in the museum clearly show the range of Shabti and their corresponding value because of the materials used (wood, stone and faience) and their size (from ~10mm up to ~30cm), it was great to see such a diverse representation of people come together within one display case.

If you’re in Liverpool and have a spare hour I can absolutely recommend heading to the Garstang but be sure to plan carefully as the museum only opens on between 10am-4pm every Wednesday.

Taking five after a long day of making and learning in Liverpool

Back at DoES I was really enjoying being able to work on an idea in one room and nip next door to quickly mock-up a prototype in the workshop so much so that I was still laser-cutting minutes before having to leave to catch a train back to London. I was able to work on and develop some fun ideas including an architecture box which I’ll share some more info on in due course. Thank you Liverpool!

That’s all for now. C

Design for Disassembly

The design of the Brain has evolved as components have been added, removed and replaced. We are improving accessibility to the tech inside, and coming from a sustainable design background I wanted to challenge myself to produce an experimental Brain where the products’ full lifecycle is factored into its design. So, here’s what I’ve been up to…

The aim was for the Brain to do the following:

  • Provide easy access to the electronics
  • Enable components to be quickly changed or modified
  • Completely disassemble easily
  • No glue!

First came lots of planning, then sketching and then I got to work CAD-ing up the design. Creating the design digitally first was beneficial as it provided the ability to position the components in a virtual space, adding the wires also helped to visualise how crowded the Brain would be.

The most notable change to the design was how the Brain is held together. We currently glue panels with interlocking finger joints, but for this design they slot into channels on the top and bottom and are pulled together with brass standoffs in each corner. We often get asked how the Brains work but it’s not always easy to demonstrate, we therefore laser-cut the panels in plywood and clear acrylic making it clear to see what’s going on within the skull.

Panel flat-lay (excluding mounting nuts/bolts)

After some light sanding the Brain assembled for the first time and the components easily mounted to the dotted grid. Most importantly the feet can be unscrewed and the base panel lifted providing easy access to add and remove parts.

This Brain has enabled us to improve upon components that were appropriate in the past but no longer live up to our requirements. One example is the power socket which was previously glued to a laser cut shim and had a tendency to come loose, we managed to source a panel mount version which now works a treat (see pictures below).

I’m very happy with how well the design turned out, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve disassembled and reassembled it. We’ve primarily been using it as a prototyping Brain to quickly test out components and content but it’s also made us big fans of acrylic and we now have plans for a colourful set of CMYK boxes!

That’s all for now,

C

Making smaller brains

We’ve made about 20 prototype boxes now and have learned a great deal from each one. We wanted to highlight one particular box we made a couple of months ago where we experimented with a smaller form and what making it has taught us. 

The design of the box or ‘skull’ (the plywood/acrylic case that contains the tech) as we refer to it is dictated by two things: the form factor of the Raspberry Pi in question and all the features we feel necessary for the product to have.

Early on we were creating boxes with the Pi 2 which required a dongle to connect the box to the internet but several months ago we switched to the Pi 3 which features built-in WiFi saving space within the skull. Raspberry Pi also make the ‘Zero’ which is about half the size of the Pi 3, we liked the idea of a small box which would be more transportable and also not require mains power connection so we designed a smaller square brain inspired by the recorder box we made back in October.

Our prototype recording box which inspired the square brain design

I (Charlie) got to work with the layout of the hardware inside the box trying out a new method of speaker mount while Adrian worked his tech wizardry to figure out what hardware to adapt and then got cutting! The square brain featured several changes from the regular rectangle namely:

  • a power on/off button
  • push button volume control
  • No LED progress bar
  • an internal battery charged via a Pi charger board and micro USB cable
  • A single speaker mounted to one side

We tested the box at Nottingham’s Explorers Fair (we’ll share a post on that soon) where we had it set up alongside the standard rectangular box. Seeing the two side-by-side it was clear the rectangle with its larger surface area provided more of a platform for the children to place multiple objects on top of however the square allowed them to pick the box up and put it to their ear or sit down on the the floor with it.

Getting hands on with the square design at Nottingham’s Explorers Fair

Despite working well and having great mobility the square box also had some obvious limitations:

  • the Pi Zero only allowed us one speaker, so the sound wasn’t as good
  • the clicky volume buttons weren’t as effective or efficient as a dial
  • the lack of our physical progress bar didn’t help people understand they had to wait a bit
  • larger objects might not balance well on the smaller top
The square design with its illuminated power button and push button volume controls

We do love the smaller form factor but when you put the two designs side-by-side the larger rectangular box has a greater presence, not to mention more room for fiddly cables and components. It was a great thing to prototype and has since influenced alterations for our bigger boxes. This won’t be the last you see of square boxes however, I’ve had some fun recently prototyping a bigger ‘Design-for-Disassembly box, but all that is for another day.

C

All boxed up at MOO

We recently paid a visit to our friends at MOO HQ which is only a stones throw from our Bloomsbury base to meet up with Toby Hextall and Phil Thomas who are the go-to designers on all things product and packaging. We wanted to get some packaging tips and also start prototyping a few concepts and Toby and Phil were kind enough to help us out.

 The Moo office is a beautiful and inspiring place and so we couldn’t help but take a few snaps before getting down to business.

Moo Entrance

After a catchup and some brainstorming we set to work on a first iteration container to house a brain box and set of MOO’s NFC cards. They have some great kit and we were able to prototype a set of packaging inserts and a card box using their Graphtec FC2250 Flatbed Plotter. The machine cuts and scores each piece of card very fast and accurately and it also works with an inDesign plug-in making the whole experience super smooth. 

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We learnt a lot about product packaging in a short period of time and worked through several iterations of inserts designed to hold a ply brain box and business card box. Whilst refining a design we also tried out various card stocks including thick corrugated sheets and recycled craft card. We discovered that the insert had a tendency to rise up around the plywood brain box so added two flaps that the brain would sit on top of to prevent this rising from happening. The box of cards also caused the insert to flex and so we tried out different tab widths as well as corrugated card to work around that.

Below is a video put together to show the machine we used to cut the inserts and the iterations in a little more detail:

We’re excited to see what else we can produce and how we can develop our packaging prototypes. We hope to spend some more time with Phil, Toby and the rest of the team in the future and we’ll keep you posted as always as things develop. Exciting times!

C.

charlie with phil

 

Making a Box that reflects the content

 

The paradigm that Museum in a Box uses to connect objects to related content is simple:

  1. Take a Thing.
  2. Put that Thing on a Brain.
  3. Receive lovely and interesting Content.

You can think of Things in the above scenario as ‘keys’ that unlock the context to the object you’re looking at. Sometimes the Thing is a 3D print of a scanned artefact, sometimes it’s a picture postcard and sometimes it’s fun to leave things a bit ambiguous – what is the Thing you’re holding? How does it relate to the Content you’re listening to?

This is what we explored a bit with Prototype No.13, which you can watch a demo of in the above video.

For this Box, we used some public domain audio from The Internet Archive as the Content and decided to try out a form factor for the Things that reflected what you would be listening to but still leaves a lot to the imagination…

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So in case you’ve not guessed yet, we used the Planets Suite by Gustav Holst for this Box, hence our spherical Content keys/triggers. We sourced some half-spheres of  birchwood from eBay, as this seemed like the easiest way to get an RFID tag inside a globe shape. Polystyrene may have been cheaper but we like the look and feel of the plain wood. We slapped an RFID sticker on one half and used wood glue to join this to its counterpart.

Making this prototype was also a good exercise in testing the limits of our tech. It turns out that smaller RFID tags have (maybe unsurprisingly) a shorter pickup range when offered up to the RFID reader we’re currently using. In a quick test, the small tag would not trigger the audio when housed in our 32mm diameter balls (so their range is less than 17mm). Fortunately, upgrading to 25mm tags extended the range of our wee planets to about 2 or 3cm. We also found out that tags only register on the reader if offered in a near parallel orientation (as in the GIF above).

We re-purposed a gift box to house our Raspberry Pi, tag reader, battery, audio speaker & cables and made a simple insert  with holes to hold the planets in a nice formation and another to suspend them over the RFID reader. (Extra special thanks to my partner and her mum for helping with this!)

All in all creating this Box only took about half a day and we’re very pleased with the results 🙂

T.