spin a media lab Projects, a startup that provides materials to help kids explore computer science concepts through hands-on learning.
people in and Know that “mens et manus” or “mind and hands” is the motto of the school. But it’s also a good framework for early childhood education. Children often learn best when they are allowed to explore their surroundings, building models of the world by picking up objects and moving them around.
Back in 2014, this insight inspired media lab A project to design a new learning environment. Four years later, the project inspired a startup called Learning Beautiful.
Learning Beautiful creates tactile materials to inspire hands-on learning in children ages 3 to 9. These materials are designed to explain simple concepts in computer science, promoting child-driven physical learning consistent with Montessori educational methods.
“It’s really important for young kids to be able to build and then play with it,” said Learning Beautiful founder Kim Smith Claudel SM ’17. “I don’t think I need to do much convincing to justify limiting screen time The importance of time. I am more concerned with the positive things we can give to children, and I think giving them these sensory, tactile materials is an opportunity to enrich their development.
The company’s materials include binary cards and pixel boards made from sustainably sourced wood, cork and canvas. To date, Learning Beautiful has sold more than 2,000 materials to schools and libraries and trained approximately 500 teachers to guide learning activities.
Smith Claudel Believe that the concepts the material articulates are an important introduction to more advanced computer science education later in life.
“If we think about how to scaffold learning for subjects like reading, writing and math, we see that all of these things are in place to create a strong foundation in early childhood to help progress in those subjects,” Smith Claudel Say. “But there’s really nothing that can do the same for computer science.”
From project to product
year 2013, Smith Claudel Began working with Sepandar Kamvar, Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and and Director of the Social Computing Group media lab. rear Smith Claudel Participated in a program organized by Kamvar Swedenhe asked her to join his lab as a research scientist.
“His vision was to bring many different people together,” Smith Claudel remember. “My background is art and design, and we have architects, computer scientists, videographers, biologists, educators and philosophers.”
The diverse group soon began exploring alternative educational methods, inspired in part by Kamvar’s own efforts to find a good preschool school for his children. Their ideas coalesce into what the team describes as the first open-source learning environment dubbed “Wildflower School,” inspired by the century-old Montessori learning method that emphasizes self-directed learning activities based on children’s natural interests.
The schools acted as test beds for teaching experiments in a project billed as “blurring the lines between homeschooling and institutional education, between scientists and teachers, between schools and surrounding communities”.
“I worked in schools for a year, doing art projects with kids, and that was my crash course in Montessori education,” Smith Claudel Say.
First school sparks interest Cambridge Community, so there are many groups. Each showcases aspects of ongoing research in Kamvar’s lab, including small-scale farming projects and experiments using different learning materials—even some of the teachers are members of the lab.
“The idea is to test different things with the community and foster this research within the school,” Smith Claudel Say. “It became our media lab.’
Smith Claudel Fascinated by some of the materials used in the classroom and intrigued by research showing young children learn more effectively through physical interaction with the environment.she formally signed up for media lab As a graduate student in 2015.
after hearing the frustrated voice and Computer scientists argue that too much educational material is screen-based and only focuses on coding, Smith Claudel She and others in her lab collaborated with them to build materials that demonstrate different computing concepts.
“Kids are very helpful because it either works or it doesn’t,” Smith Claudel Say. “Feedback from teachers is also helpful because they either understand or they don’t understand, and if they don’t understand then we have failed.”
Smith Claudel Run through the MIT DesignX accelerator School of Architecturewhere they started hearing about people wanting copies of their research materials for their classrooms and libraries.
“DesignX changed the way I think about this research and turned it into ‘how can we take this strong foundation and turn it into a business?'” Smith Claudel Say.
as Smith Claudel Near graduation in 2017, she received her first material order Chicago Public Librarywitnessed her work in media labShe still remembers building each early set by hand as she finished her master’s work. what is Makerspace, use a CNC machine and spend hours sanding, painting and gluing.
The company’s first series of materials include a pixel board that demonstrates how computers represent images with 1s and 0s, and a “binary tree” that introduces the concept of data structures as children connect branches and build trees.
“With a binary tree, a 2- or 3-year-old might start playing using what we call sensory exploration,” Smith Claudel Say. “What they’re doing is experimenting and discovering through the physical process. They’re starting to see that things fit together. They’re starting to build things and get a sense of balance. They’re also noticing that the parts come in different shapes and colors, So they’re building these models. They’re learning from the process.
Learning Beautiful also provides support and educational materials for teachers.
“We learned early on that you can’t just give someone new material and expect them to adjust to an unfamiliar subject area, so we created children’s books, full curricula, lesson plans, and then training,” Smith Claudel Say.
When schools closed during the pandemic, the team developed instructions for at-home learning activities and made them available for free to parents and teachers. The slowdown also gives them time to plan the next series of material, which will be released next year.
“Pausing can be a healthy thing,” Smith Claudel Say. ‘Especially at the beginning [of the pandemic]our attitude is what can we do now?
Help everyone learn beauty
More recently, the company has been focused on expanding its teacher training efforts, including establishing a virtual training program.
Last fall, after partnering with a school district iowaLearning Beautiful held a training workshop with 250 teachers, giving them each their own set of materials to take back into the classroom.
Smith Claudel Also believes her materials can help a wider range of children than computer-based learning programs. Learning Beautiful has even started conversations with schools in other countries without electricity.
“I think accessibility is really important on a few different levels,” Smith Claudel Say. “We learn in different ways, so it’s critical to provide a variety of different types of learning opportunities.” We use sound and touch in our materials, and we’ve had early conversations about working with blind children because these Materials don’t just rely on visuals.
Learning Beautiful’s next product will go beyond computer science to encourage ecological thinking and help children understand the environmental systems around them and in their schools.
As the company’s sales grew, it developed a program whereby proceeds from sales to one community could help donate to communities with fewer resources.
“Hands-on learning works for all of us,” Smith Claudel Say. “For children, most of their brain development occurs between the ages of 0 and 3, so physical interaction is rich—understanding spatial relationships, how to hold things, how to use their bodies, how to take input from the world and They process them in their brains. Minds. That’s it what is The motto “Head and Hands” is all about: this connection between bodily experiences and what we build in our minds.