This post is part of a series where the YALSAblog takes a closer look at Learning Lab grantees from museums and libraries to learn how they engage middle and high school youth in mentor-led, interest-based, youth-centered, collaborative learning using digital and traditional media.” To read more about the context of the Learning Labs, visit the first post in the series here.

sewingToday we will read about a Learning Lab with the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, TX from Jennifer Beradino, Manager of the Museum’s Kinder Foundation Education Center (KFEC) jberadino@mfah.org and Natalie Svacina, Curriculum Coordinator nsvacina@mfah.org.

KC: If you have named your Learning Lab, can you share what you are calling it?
JB/NS: hang@MFAH — houston.art.new.generation

KC: What is the target age for your Learning Lab?
JB/NS: High school aged teens

KC: What makes your Learning Lab unique?
JB/NS: We work with a professional practicing DIY Hacker artist.

KC: What theoretical framework are you applying to help inform the design and activities in the space? How, if at all, does Connected Learning play a role?
JB/NS: Connected learning is the framework in which we designed our learning lab as well as the activities that take place during our programs. The mentor component is a driving factor through the informal learning, including the skill building, exploration of materials and ideas, creativity, and leveling up.

KC: At the heart of most learning labs is the concept of community. How do you anticipate your Learning Lab creating community where it didn’t previously exist in the same way before?
JB/NS: MFAH didn’t have robust out of school programs for teens before our learning lab program. Through the connected learning philosophy, we have created a teen community at MFAH. In addition to hang@MFAH, we have developed a series of other teen opportunities that all use the framework of connected learning. Since our mentor artist is part of the Rice University Visual and Dramatic Arts Department as a professor, the teens are expanding their reach and exposure to the Greater Houston art community. We partner through several departments at Rice University, including the Chao Center for Asian Studies, which also broadens the teens’ community as well as the MFAH community.

KC: What advice are you taking into consideration in approaching this project-either from libraries/other organizations who have completed or are in the process of similar projects, your own experience, or otherwise?
JB/NS: We have learned from the early adopters of HOMAGO and learning labs as well as our own experience, that the mentor is the vital component of a successful program. The subtle and nuanced teaching methodologies for our learning lab require a complex set of skills from the mentor to conceptualize and practice the learning that takes place in hang@MFAH.

KC: What components will make your Learning Lab a Learning Lab?
JB/NS:
• Mentor
• Curious teens who practice problem solving skills
• Space and time to experiment
• Visual art in the museum galleries
• Opportunities to apply new skills and knowledge to complex and real world projects
• Space and time to socialize with other teens
• Events to share projects with the larger Houston area teen community

KC: What types of activities and/or technology do you anticipate being a part of your Learning Lab?
JB/NS: Because hang@MFAH uses the model of interest driven projects (by the teens), the sky is the limit for specific types of technology. Our most useful tool is access to the internet. This combined with art and ideas allows the teens to best decide if they need code snippets, soldering irons, 3D printed parts and/or LED’s etc. The idea drives the internet search for how-to’s, build lists, and open source information. We are capitalizing on teens being digital natives and teaching them how to be DIY hacker artists.

KC: What are your plans to keep the Learning Lab dynamic, fresh, and moving forward?
JB/NS: Since the projects are driven by the teens, it remains fresh and relevant based on their feedback and ideas.

KC: For libraries or similar organizations that haven’t received funding to build their dream Learning Lab, what suggestions do you have where they can start to get ideas or create a similar experience?
JB/NS:
• Find a great Mentor with great ideas and a comfort level working with teens in an informal environment
• Go to the source-your teens
• Start small
• You don’t need fancy equipment just a willingness to listen to the teens and experiment
• Don’t be afraid of failure- you’ll learn something you can take away from each misstep.

About Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.

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