Friday afternoon, I was visiting my friend Amon Millner at Olin College. After finishing up, he invited me to go with him to the nearby Wellesley College and their Engineering Studio. Not knowing quite what to expect, but always interested in seeing hands-on learning spaces, I went along for the ride. What I saw took my breath away. It is still a bit mind-boggling to consider what this lab has, and the amazing ideas that are coming from it.

The lab is run by Robbie Berg, professor of Physics at Wellesley. He’s worked together for many years with Mitch Resnick of MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the Media Lab. Among the projects he’s had a hand in developing are the PICO Cricket robotics kits and the PICO Sensor board. I’ve seen both of these systems used to help kids learn about programming and interaction along with Scratch at the Learn 2 Teach program in Boston’s South End.

As far as gear goes, it was all drool-worthy. The 3D printer was refrigerator sized, with some suitably large and complex prints on hand. The lasercutter was also biggified, with loads of examples of amazing products created by students. The laser-cut 3D objects weren’t just 2D images cut in fine detail, but also many hand cranked and motor driven mechanisms. The electronics componens collection would make any self-respecting hackerspace blush. And the Legos! So many that it would take a week to just count them, let alone build anything you can imagine — they’re stored by type in hardware bins along the counters. Underneath the work surfaces were rolly carts with locking doors containing more infrequently-needed tools. The casters on the bottom allow them to be reconfigured and their wooden tops encourage their use as work surfaces. Everything is stored at the ready, for curious minds needing the parts to make their dreams come alive (and walk across the table or up a wall).

Everywhere were examples of creative work and ideas in progress. This is the middle of the semester, so there were bits and pieces of projects on every horizontal surface. Physical manifestations of ideas were everywhere you could see. Projects were intermingled with supplies, finished products alongside prototypes and sketch models.

This kind of setup might not work for every learning space, but it sure does look like people are creating and solving problems in an active way at Wellesley College in the Engineering Studio.

Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


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