Designing the perfect tech learning environment

Designing the perfect tech learning environment

Categorized under: coding education for kids

“The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, the children are now working as if I did not exist.” – Maria Montessori

One of the areas that we think a lot about is how to design the perfect learning environment for kids to learn how to solve problems by leveraging technology-based solutions. While we don’t claim to have all the answers, we do believe that we have found a couple of solutions that work well for our problem statement.

Experiential – One of the best ways to learn is by doing. So, instead of just focusing on rote or didactic learning, we have kids jump into each project and build something new from the ground up. By putting the theory of coding and engineering design into practice, kids are able to see that they are more than they are extremely capable.

Collaborative – Programmers can often get a reputation for being a singular hero on a journey to create the next breakthrough project, the reality is quite different. Most often, the best solutions are developed in conjunction with others. Similar to the workplace where colleagues can identify and solve for individual blind spots, we actively encourage students to work together.

Inspirational – We believe there must be a healthy belief in the possibility of the impossible. While many great inventors and inventors have solved some really difficult problems, we believe that there is still a massive amount of white space for the next generation of students to really put their imprint on the world. Our focus is on developing their acumen to see beyond what is currently in front of them and learning to see around corners to solve the next big problem.

Challenging – Although kids may initially be drawn to problems that are easily solvable, eventually they get bored or tired of not being pushing to reach their full capabilities. We seek to create an environment that is intentionally challenging so that students can learn that not only is it ok to not know the answer, but through the process of learning why something doesn’t work is where the true breakthrough comes from.

Foster Independence – While we enjoy working with students to help them build projects on a wide variety of topics, we also actively push them towards being able to independently develop solutions without always needing instructor guidance. This requires a delicate balance. But, no one ever truly learns how to ride a bicycle until the training wheels are removed.

Small Class Sizes – There has been tons and tons of research on the ideal class size, we have found that there are unique characteristics to teaching kids coding and engineering design concepts. While, there may be some subjects that can be manageable with larger class sizes we have seen that the iterative debugging and query process in technology is best achieved with smaller student to teacher ratios.

Diverse Topics – While we might believe that it is best for kids to specialize in a key area, we actually find that most students are curious about a wide variety of technology-based topics. In fact, when we initially launched the business, our Ultimate Adventure camp which showcases a different theme (robotics, Minecraft, 3D printing, video game design, movie-making & animation) everyday was only intended to help kids decide what topics they would select for their after-school program. Instead, we found that students wanted to replicate their camp experience throughout the year and the Ultimate Adventure has consistently been our most popular after-school topic. 

Variety of manipulatives – Within our learning studios, we are constantly seeking a variety of manipulatives to communicate key concepts. Our belief is that an important part of learning is seeing technology in action. And, we don’t limit the kids ability to interact with the manipulatives as we believe a big part of learning is being able to engage with things that stimulate curiosity. Often times, we will find kids will just pick up an object and just look at it from all angles before turning it on. Through this process of self-discovery, they are forming a vision of how it might work before seeing how it actually works. And, what he hope happens is that they will see gaps between their expectation for functionality and reality. In these teachable moments, we will often explain that the designer of the product determined that it should work this way. But, if you think it should work differently, let’s figure out how to iterate and improve on this concept.

No judgment zone – In formal academic environments, kids are graded in order to test their knowledge and understanding of a subject. While we believe there is utility to this approach, we also think there is room to create a learning environment that provides feedback without overemphasizing a singular grade and instead focuses on individual growth over time. While, there is still work to do on figuring out exactly what that looks like, we have had parents share several stories with us about their children’s experience at Digital Adventures versus a traditional classroom environment. And, the feedback has been that my child feels more comfortable asking questions because they don’t think they will be judged for either not knowing how to do something or for asking about something that may seem obvious to everyone else.

In the 2 years since we launched our 1st location on the North Shore of Chicago, we are proud of the progress we have made. However, there is still more work to do as we iterate and improve on the design of our learning environments. If you have thoughts or ideas on what might work well, send us an email or let us know in the comments below. We are committing to iteratively improving upon our learning studio design so that we can get more kids excited and focused on solving the world’s biggest problems using technology as their platform.

About the Author: Omowale Casselle is the Co-Founder & CEO of Digital Adventures.