Real-World Learning At Its Best

engineering jam real-world learning wired for learning Apr 27, 2020

In the JAM space this week, we were inspired by real-world makers and engineers.

Our Wired for Learning mindset challenge came from innovative engineers at Dyson, who are not averse to playing with Lego and cardboard when solving the problems they are presented with. Indeed, it is through play, trial and error, and often multiple failure, that breakthrough comes. Our task? To build a marble run lasting exactly sixty seconds.

That might sound easy, until you watch how quickly a marble run downs a slope. Sixty seconds is a long time in the life of that small glass bauble. So how to slow the marble down? Lots of discussion in our house about friction, momentum, gravity, force. This was a hands-on science challenge, requiring a strong mindset, perseverance, ingenuity and problem solving.

There were all sorts of creative responses to this challenge. Some families used ping pong balls or round chocolates where they had no marble. Some incorporated purpose-made marble run parts, but added to them to extend the length of their course. Others constructed the entire run from cardboard, bits of wood, railways tracks, items from their recycling box.


Getting enough height to sustain the descent for a full minute was a problem, with families starting on their shed rooves using pieces of wood to guide the marble downwards. Others incorporated stretches of drainpipe.

One beautiful response used garden items including stones and rocks glued down a length of pipe to slow the marble’s course, finishing in a sandy trench.

It was interesting to observe whole family participation and enthusiasm. Where children dipped in and out, parental motivation sustained the activity, and families returned to it over several days, determined to slow their marble further and hit the sixty second target.

There were some great examples of collaboration as parents and siblings worked together to solve the problem, many working outside in the beautiful spring sunshine.

Next day, our real-world brief followed on beautifully from all that engineering fun. Morgan, a professional maker, gave us his creative challenge: to design an interactive donation box for a heritage site in the Peak District.

Morgan told us his work involves exactly this process – responding to a brief, envisioning a response, and bringing the ideas from his head into a constructed reality to deliver to his client. There are different roles in this creative process. It is often collaborative. His speciality is electronics, using CAD and 3D printers to interpret and bring ideas to life. 

Morgan was now looking to us, the participants in the JAM space, to contribute our ideas to his brief, inviting us to respond in our own way, as storytellers, artists, designers, engineers, in the way that really lights each one of us up.

Isn’t that a fantastic opportunity for our children, to respond to a real-world brief, in their own unique way? Children have so many ideas, so many creative solutions, and being involved in a process, taken seriously by a professional working on a real-world problem is tremendously empowering, whatever their skillset.

It was wonderful to see the way parents got involved and responded to the brief too, many exploring new media or picking up talents and interests which had lain dormant for many years. As they lead by example, their enthusiasm and engagement in the learning process filters out to their watching children, a fantastic demonstration of Lights On® learning in action.

There ensued drawings and descriptions of how an interactive donation box might look and work, some detailed artistic responses. One mum, Ruth, took to Tinkercad and was completely absorbed in the process of learning about this new 3D design app, as well as creating a fabulous response to the brief. She found she was operating in her flow.

Others constructed Lego mechanisms, or drew out some of the characters and stories of the history of the site. Our marble runs of the previous day provided inspiration, as falling coins forged courses through interactive exhibits, like the marbles down our runs.

There were lots of new families in the JAM space this week – all making the most of exploring new ways of learning during this time in lockdown, all eager to look at the internal learning environment of both themselves and their children, open to opportunities to explore and find out just what they might be capable of.

Calling all aspiring engineers, makers, creators...This is a wonderful open table, an invitation to a delicious feast of learning opportunities.

Come JAM with us! 

Lights On® JAMS are currently discounted to just £15 for the three days, and are running now. To find out more and sign up, click here.

Alice Khimasia
Seeing her eldest son's lights go out when he was 7, Alice took action to ensure his freedom to learn. She has been speaking and writing about her family's learning adventures ever since, and gave a TEDx talk in 2016. Alice is part of our Lights On® Academy and lives with her husband and 4 Lights On® Learners in the West Midlands.


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