Learning Lab: Madison Children’s Museum

This post is part of a series where 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.

Today we will read about a Learning Lab with the Madison Children’s Museum from Erin Hoag, Local Treasures Coordinator.

KC: If you have named your Learning Lab, can you share what you are calling it?
EH: The working title is KidShare but that will be changing due to its unpopularity with our audience.

KC: What is the target age for your Learning Lab?
EH: Originally the target age group was middle school youth but we have since reevaluated and any on-site offerings will be geared towards our current audience (12-year-olds and younger). We may still pursue the mobile route with middle school students.

KC: What makes your Learning Lab unique?
EH: Our learning lab is unique in that it is a mobile lab so our options for collaboration with other groups and organizations are unlimited.

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?
EH: Because our learning lab is mobile, the activities take place in whatever space is provided for us. That being said, the activities we have been developing need to be compelling and interesting enough to get and keep the participants’ attention for the duration. The challenge is that while we want the activities to be self-paced, this means that time constraints and limited interaction with the participants naturally determine how much they may accomplish. Even so, while we may not call it out as such, we are using a framework similar to that of Connected Learning. We fell out the participants’ interests and knowledge/skills levels before determining how best to proceed. Then we build the curriculum based on that evaluation. We tweak things and even change course as we go along based on what the participants are getting out of the project and the things they wish to accomplish.

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?
EH: Because our Learning Lab can go out into the broader community and because the kids’ work will be presented at the museum and online where others may see it, we’re building a community for story tellers/sharers with kids who might not otherwise interact with one another.

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?
EH: It is super important to have “buy-in” from the participants and that means creating a self-paced structure with interesting challenges and activities to keep the students engaged and wanting to progress.

KC: What components will make your Learning Lab a Learning Lab?
EH: In order for there to be learning, there needs to be some component of investigation, hypothesis, trial, and evaluation. Our plan is to allow that to happen in a fairly free-form, hands-on sort of way as kids determine their preferred media for story-telling.

KC: What types of activities and/or technology do you anticipate being a part of your Learning Lab?
EH: We are not limiting the types of activities we offer and are letting the kids self-direct for now. It’s helping us to get a read on what works and what doesn’t. We do know that going forward the programming activities will mainly revolve around story creation and collection and that we’re hoping the majority of those stories are related to place and/or community.

KC: What are your plans to keep the Learning Lab dynamic, fresh, and moving forward?
EH: Our original proposal was to use the Learning Lab for story making and collecting with kids and we are shifting back towards that initial vision after much program sampling in the field. We will continue to do that kind of work and partner with organizations who share that interest in children’s perspectives and stories. This already includes community centers in Madison and may also include a fairly substantial oral history project in the state.

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?
EH: This is a tricky question because it really depends on the kind of learning they wish to accomplish. If and organization wants to focus on art, that might be very different than focusing on robotics. The best advice I can give is to determine what kinds of programming the organization would like to offer and then see what skills their own staff may have already. You can accomplish a surprising amount by simply building on the skills you already have. If an organization is unsure what kinds of activities they’d like to offer, check out: diy.org, instructables.com, or even Pinterest. If an organizations wishes to focus on storytelling as we have, I recommend looking at cowbird.com, cityofmemory.org, and BoredshortsTV.

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