If you hear roaring and see bears at SXSWedu this week, don’t be alarmed. You can come close to the exhibit  but please, don’t feed the bears.

The EXPLO Studio team has landed in Austin and, in typical EXPLO fashion, is lighting up The Playground with an exhibit that is just right.

“We see The Playground is an opportunity to create an experience where the teacher can be a student again,” says EXPLO Studio Director Dave Hamilton. “As with a lot of EXPLO projects, a key part of our curriculum is that we can design an interaction that is both engaging and meaningful — that there’s something to be learned even though it’s enjoyable to do.”

Meet Molly Mogul
Last year, participants explored aerodynamics and rapid prototyping as they DSC03057.jpgattempted to make “Captain Fraido” hover in a windtunnel. This year, visitors to the EXPLO booth will meet Molly Mogul — a skiing tennis ball attempting to make it past a brood of hungry bears. With little more than a piece of cardboard, participants will construct a ski jump with just the right curve to propel Molly over the bears and other obstacles preventing her from landing in the ski lodge (a barrel) at the bottom of the mountain.

Creating a narrative element in which the student becomes part of the story enhances engagement in the project. It creates a low barrier to entry encouraging more people both to give it a shot and to invest in developing a solution (no matter how many attempts it may take) thats just right.

“Regardless of age, adults and children both respond to this prompt even though they know it’s just a tennis ball. It’s more engaging, they develop empathy. As facilitators, we’ll address the tennis ball seriously as Molly Mogul  and there’s enough willing suspension of disbelief that people will try one more time,” Hamilton says.

The Case for Critical Making
For students in school today, the jobs they will get don’t yet exist. The skills they’re learning will be replaced by computers. Creative thinking is going to be critical in the world moving forward because it can’t be replaced by computers.

“If the only way we’re teaching our students is through powerpoint slides, they’re not learning. They’re memorizing and regurgitating," Hamilton says. "There’s no way to do that with this jump, no opportunity to memorize. You have to experience it, react to the experience of it, and adjust your thinking.”

Critical making — transforming the ordinary into something with meaning  becomes a key element to cultivating critical thinking, complex problem solving, creativity, clarity of communication, and collaboration in the classroom. Good critical making will help students see in new and innovative ways.

I consider it successful when someone is able to put something on the ramp, make a purposeful design decision, and feel a little more empowered in their ability as a designer and engineer — especially if they don't consider themselves engineers in the first place.

“It’s less about good ski jump design and more about the process of looking at something and working strictly from observation  observe the behavior of the ball, make a purposeful change to the design, observe that behavior, and respond in real time.”

Don't Feed the Bears Free Curriculum (No Fancy Materials Required!)
Our free curriculum package includes easy-to-follow instructions on how to run the activity with a couple of 2x4s, some cardboard, and a bit of hardware from your local box store. Download the curriculum by clicking the image below.

Download Free Curriculum: Don't Feed the Bears

The EXPLO booth is on display at SXSWedu from March 6 - March 10. If you're at the conference, stop by The Playground and say hello!