Inspired by the work at MIT Lifelong Kindergarten Strawbees strives to create resources for teachers to facilitate situations where students can engage in creative thinking.

Strawbees are not only about making things, it’s also the environment in which they are made. We want to create a learning environment that helps children engage in projects that reflect their ideas and how they see the world.

This type of process is repeated over and over in kindergarten. The materials vary (finger paint, crayons, bells) and the creations vary (pictures, stories, songs), but the core process is the same. I think of it as a spiraling process in which children imagine what they want to do, create a project based on their ideas, play with their creations, share their ideas and creations with others, reflect on their experiences – all of which leads them to imagine new ideas and new projects.
Mitchel Resnick, All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten

Inspired by the work at Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT Media Lab and Strawbees resources and materials are for helping teachers to facilitate situations where students can engage in creative thinking. Children continuously iterate their projects as they travel through the Creative Learning Spiral.

[1] Kindergarten learning approach for student projects to iterate through the Creative Learning Spiral coined by Mitch Resnick of Lifelong Kindergarten.

A classroom with Strawbees transforms into a dynamic and collaborative playground with opportunities for students to interact, experiment, and create overlapping projects. In this imaginative space of making and playing, children refine their creative thinking while building projects they care about. As they build, their process is reflected as the Creative Learning Spiral.

How can we help young people develop as creative thinkers so that they’re prepared for life in this ever-changing world?
Mitchel Resnick, Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play

[2] Young maker curiously interacting with the world in Japan.

It is essential for us to cultivate creative thinking in younger generations, which is at the heart of Creative Learning Spiral projects. We want to live in a world where children, "..must learn to deal creatively with uncertainty and change – not only their work lives but also in their personal lives (how to develop and sustain friendships in an era of ever-changing social networks) and their civic lives (how to participate meaningfully in communities that have ever-shifting needs and boundaries).”[3] Through creative and collaborative project-based learning, this is exactly what Strawbees aspires for students to engage in the classroom.

Erik Thorstensson playing with Mitch Resnick and Eric Rosenbaum at MIT Media Lab.

The criteria Strawbees uses for creating tools and resources for learning environments is following the room metaphor by Mitch Resnick and Seymour Papert. The path of the Room is for students to begin projects easily from the floor with rising complexity toward the high ceiling. However, a single path isn’t enough to cover all groups of learners and therefore requires another dimension to the room. Students are diverse ranging in different interests, hobbies, ideas, and backgrounds. There is space in the room to widen and include more paths as students are most engaged when they work on projects meaningful to them. From the willingness to participate in a healthy struggle to 12 iterations later designing resources within the criteria of the room metaphor leads students to make grand connections.

  • Low Floor – Easy entry for everyone to get started. [4]
  • High Ceiling – Rising complexity. [4]
  • Wide Walls – Appealing to everyone in a diverse range of learners and groups with the ability to have a variety of outcomes. [4]

The flexible building system of Strawbees through the connectors, straws, electronic hardware, and code makes it easier to ignite creativity with the low floor, intuitive color-coded pieces for building from their imagination. Students are able to enjoy the journey of inventing as quickly as generating new ideas.

An idea takes shape in the form of a pyramid and branches into many different solutions. Imagine students all individually creating different ideas.

Getting started with only a few pieces of material to build starts with an idea and can become something completely different. Iterating from the original idea like a classic pyramid, known as a tetrahedron, branching into many facets. Make an idea fly like a kite using the lightweight benefit of straws, transform a massive Sierpinski Pyramid into hiding space, or take it apart and program a line of robot racers with hats to be worn by each student. 

Extending beyond the connectors and straws, upcycle cardboard found in the recycling bin to becoming a high-speed hovercraft. Listen to the sounds around and record voices to play as each key of an instrument. Make a cardboard submarine game with Scratch. Strawbees is the glue that binds different materials, technologies, and different learning tools as a connector in more ways than one.

[5] Drawing robots and laughter with young makers in Japan.

Projects, passion, peers, and play. In short, we believe the best way to cultivate creativity is to support people working on projects based on their passions, in collaboration with peers and in a playful spirit.
Mitchel Resnick, Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play

[6] A community of educators, designers, and tinkerers exploring creative learning through projects, passion, peers, and play by Mitch Resnick.

  • Projects – People learn best when they are actively working on meaningful projects – generating new ideas, designing prototypes, refining iteratively. [6]
  • Peers – Learning flourishes as a social activity, with people sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, and building on one another’s work. [6]
  • Passion – When people work on projects they care about, they work longer and harder, persist in the face of challenges, and learn more in the process. [6]
  • Play – Learning involves playful experimentation – trying new things, tinkering with materials, testing boundaries, taking risks, iterating again and again. [6]

Lindsay Balfour’s passion is doodling while building. This process helps her materialize the project’s direction.

The playful interaction of Lindsay’s lip-syncing dinosaur rocking out to music with the micro:bit. Engaging in a music video with peers for a micro:bit virtual concert on Twitter.

Peers playing together.

In Strawbees Classroom there are student resources designed to be flexible depending on your student’s learning needs. These resources are in the form of a thematic lesson, activity models with building instructions, and open-ended explorations following a creative design process. Lessons and activities are designed with a central theme with plenty of supporting material for students to explore a wider range of topics with research, engaging in more building ideas, coding cards, journals for writing (or doodling) reflections.

The different categories of student resources.

Episodes from the School of Ridiculous Inventions are open-ended, inspirational resources shared with students learning how to brainstorm, document, act on prototyping ideas, and playtest with friends following an iterative design process closely tied to the Creative Learning Spiral.

Erik Thorstensson’s sketch using a crane and ball track for the School of Ridiculous Inventions.

Erik creating and playing with the sketched ideas for the Chain Reaction episode.

Along the way, I began to develop an understanding about not only the process for making a miniature golf course, but the general process for making anything: how to start with an initial idea, develop preliminary plans, create a first version, try it out, ask other people to try it out, revise plans based on what happens—and keep doing that, over and over. By working on my project, I was gaining experience with the Creative Learning Spiral.
Mitchel Resnick, Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play

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