Today was one of those days at work I don’t want to forget

This morning over coffee at home, I wrote a personal tweet: “I wonder what will happen today.” I didn’t post it.

I got to work a bit before 10am. Our office hours are 10-6. Our first thing to do was an interview with Pat, a design/construction teacher at a high school in Liverpool. He’s one of our Make Your Own pilots, and it was a joy. We’re planning to talk with all 40 of them.

We have a script for these interviews, which Pat promptly diverted from. He explained his love of teaching, and that every child is a maker, and that when kids are able to teach other kids what’s going on you know they’ve really got it. He spun his phone around his classroom, and showed us what basically looked like his shed. In the best way. There’s a welder, 3D printers, workshop timetables… all manner of bits and bobs designed to help kids think and touch and make. One of our questions is ‘what sort of collection are you thinking to make?’ and Pat’s desk is covered with widgets, that people mostly just want to touch and pick up, so he explained he wanted to make a Collection using those widgets, to help people learn what all the things are. Brilliant.

Then, we finalised an agreement for a new bunch of 3D scanning and digital model making we’re going to do for a big London museum. We’re going to their store tomorrow to check it out.

Next, our two new team members, Thibaut and Amy, and I went through our sketch of what the Make Your Own kit we’ll be sending to all our pilots consists of, discussed each element, and started to flesh out a content plan for the thing. It’s an interesting line to tread, between instructional, educational, proscriptive, and suggestive. Our pilots are all sorts: primary school classes all the way to world-leading sound artists. Our challenge will be to make a kit that experienced adults can skim for the key elements and that teachers can use to guide and stimulate their students. It’s a first pass representing our own production process so others can use it, with a view to making a kit that anyone can use.

By then we were hungry, so got shish, falafel and noodles and sat in the park, in the warm October sun. (What?)

We had guests coming to tea, so I went to Sainsburys to get some angel cake, Tunnocks caramel wafers, and digestives.

Around 2pm, I joined a Skype call with Sara and Liz in Washington, at the Smithsonian. Our calls, while always focussing on next steps and progress, are always filled with laughter and lots of jokes. It was funny introducing Thibaut and Amy to the style of “business meeting” we’ve had with the Smithsonian folks for almost two years now, every week. They are true partners, and real friends. Schemes continue.

Next I talked to an insurance broker who I’d never met and knew nothing about us, who asked me the sort of new and neutral questions I generally enjoy, probing for the edges of our operation in the hope of describing it adequately for potential providers. It turns out we’ve built a small but international business with a growing network of collaborators and other service providers so that’ll probably be complicated and expensive. Ho hum.

Sara and I had been interviewed the week before by a video press blog in Los Angeles who liked what Museum in a Box is and was going to make an article about us. I wrote to them to ask how it was going, and they told me the video piece was already online. I watched it, and so have 116,000 other people by now. WTF. Great! (That explains the influx of hello emails we got on Monday from teachers in the USA who would all like boxes please.)

Then our afternoon guests arrived, Lucia and Martin, both part of our pilot. It’s lovely that we can meet the London pilots in person, and, over cake, we followed more or less the same script we asked Pat about in the morning. The three stories are each so different, but all united by our simple thing. It’s fascinating how each person has taken the idea and is running with it.

What is a Museum? How might this change it? How could this create a new way to enjoy sound? Could this encourage new collaborations within our museum? Is a Box better than the laptops we have in our Learning Centre? What if the kids pull it apart? We visit museums 2–3 times a year and the kids have to pay a bit of money for that. Wouldn’t it be great to get a sponsor to help with the pilot?

It’s such a thrill to be engaging with our pilots like this. Having thought and dreamt about Museum in a Box in relative isolation for a while now, this user research and conversations we’re having are enlightening and exciting, especially for me, because they’re making me see what we’re making from new points of view. It’s refreshing and inspiring, and there’s another 36 or so to go.

Oh, and, got a note from a chap in Singapore who wants to tinker with a Box to make a series of talking artefacts about Sikh Heritage.

The thing is, when you’re trying to make something new, every day is different, and this was a good one.

Raspberry Pi Stories

We were pleased as punch to get a note from Raspberry Pi asking if we’d like to be the subject of their Stories video series, and the Artefacts in the Classroom article and video have come out today!

Thanks very much to Alex Bate and Brian O’Halloran at Raspberry Pi for making this brilliant video!

And, we’ll be at the upcoming Raspberry Fields event in Cambridge 30 June-1 July if you’d like to have a shot at it in person (and happen to be in Cambridge).

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.

Augmented Reality [AR] Postcards with Augment App

One thing I love about making a 3D scan of an object is that you can do multiple things with the resulting digital data. You can post it online for people to examine in their web browser; you can beam it across the the globe (or into space) to someone with a 3D printer and they can effectively replicate it; you can put it in a video game or VR scene

I wrote a couple of days ago about how the 3D scanning that we conducted for the Cuming Museum – a museum with no building (it burned down) but with enthusiastic staff that help people connect with the surviving collection through events, outreach, the web and social media.

In the video above, you can see the 3D models we made popping up from postcards through the clever tech of an augmented reality (AR) app called Augment.

We first started having fun with this tech at a residency at Somerset House way back in March, 2015 as part of The Small Museum. We used the tool to reveal the true colours and (maybe more significantly) the true scale of a Colossal Foot from the British Musem (of which, it turns out, there are many.)

Read more about those adventures – and the genesis of Museum in a Box – on The Small Museum blog.

The steps you need to go through to work this magic is fairly straightforward – upload your 3D model, indicate it’s size, upload your image, indicate it’s size, associate the two and you’re done. Fire up the Augment app (Android / iOS), point it at your image and – boom! – you’ve got some very cool AR happening in front or your eyes!

You can also have some fun with how the image that triggers (or “trackers” as Augment calls them) the AR relates to the 3D model that pops up. While we simply used a couple of collection images as triggers. In our experiments, an image of the poor giraffe statuette in pieces after the fire to trigger 3D of the lovely complete version after careful conservation. The 3D scan of a poor malnourished tiger’s skull from the long defunct Surrey Zoological gardens is triggered by an illustration showing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visiting the Surrey Zoological Gardens in 1848 – complete with wholly unsafe jack russel terrier in the cage!

By by playing with the combination of image and associated 3D, you can help tell an artefact’s without any words. Of course if you add words and sounds you’ll be hitting all kinds of learning styles. Plenty to explore here….

Try it yourself, print off the images below at A5 size and scan them with the Augment app!

T.