People at MIT know “mens et manus” or “mind and hand” as the college motto. But it is usually an excellent framework for early childhood schooling. Children usually study finest when they’re allowed to discover the atmosphere round them by constructing fashions of the world by selecting up and transferring issues.
In 2014, that perception was the inspiration for a Media Lab challenge that designed new studying environments. Four years later, that challenge grew to become the inspiration for a startup known as Learning Beautiful.
Learning Beautiful creates tangible supplies to encourage hands-on studying for youngsters aged 3 to 9 years. Designed to clarify easy ideas in pc science, the supplies promote child-directed, bodily studying that aligns with the Montessori methodology of schooling.
“It’s so important for young children to be able to build and experience with their hands,” mentioned Kim Smith Claudel SM ’17, founding father of Learning Beautiful. “I do not assume I want a lot convincing of the significance of limiting display time for youths. I focus extra on the optimistic issues we can provide youngsters, and I believe giving them these sensory, tactile supplies is a developmentally enriching alternative.
The firm’s supplies embody issues like binary playing cards and pixel boards comprised of sustainably sourced wooden, cork, and canvas. To date, Learning Beautiful has offered greater than 2,000 supplies to varsities and libraries and skilled roughly 500 lecturers to guide studying actions.
Smith Claudel believes that the ideas uncovered by the supplies present an excellent basis for extra superior pc science schooling later in life.
“When we think about how we support learning for subjects like reading and writing and math, we have all of these things in place to build a strong foundation in early childhood to progress in these subjects,” says Smith Claudel. “But there really wasn’t anything that did the same for computer science.”
From challenge to product
In 2013, Smith Claudel started collaborating with Sepandar Kamvar, a professor of media arts and sciences at MIT and director of the Media Lab’s Social Computing group. After Smith Claudel labored on a present that Kamvar hosted in Sweden, he requested her to hitch his lab as a analysis scientist.
“His vision was to bring many different people together,” recalled Smith Claudel. “My background was art and design, and we had architects, computer scientists, videographers, biologists, educators, and philosophers.”
The numerous workforce quickly started exploring various approaches to schooling, impressed partially by Kamvar’s personal battle to discover a good preschool for his youngster. Their concepts got here collectively within the first of what the workforce known as “Wildflower Schools,” described as open-source studying environments impressed by the age-old Montessori methodology of studying that emphasizes self-directed studying actions based mostly on youngsters’s pure pursuits.
The colleges served as testbeds for experimentation in instructing and studying, with the challenge marketed as “blurring the boundaries between homeschooling and institutional education, between scientists and teachers, between schools and the neighborhoods around them.”
“I spent a year at school doing art projects with the kids, and that was my crash course in Montessori education,” says Smith Claudel.
The first college sparked curiosity within the Cambridge group, so the group opened up extra. Each contained features of the analysis happening in Kamvar’s lab, together with small-scale farming initiatives and experimentation with totally different studying supplies – even among the lecturers had been members of the lab.
“The idea was to test different things with the community and cultivate this research within the school,” says Smith Claudel. “It became a link to what we did in the Medialab.”
Smith Claudel grew to become enamored with among the supplies used within the lecture rooms and intrigued by the analysis exhibiting that younger youngsters study extra successfully via bodily interplay with their atmosphere. She formally enrolled on the Media Lab in 2015 as a graduate pupil.
After listening to the frustration of MIT pc scientists that an excessive amount of academic materials was screen-based and targeted solely on coding, Smith Claudel and others in her lab labored with them to construct materials that demonstrated varied computational ideas.
“The kids are really helpful because it either works or it doesn’t work,” says Smith Claudel. “Feedback from teachers is also helpful because they either understand or they don’t, and if they don’t, we’ve failed.”
Smith Claudel went via the MIT DesignX accelerator operating via the School of Architecture, the place they began listening to from folks wanting copies of their analysis supplies for his or her lecture rooms and libraries.
“DesignX changed the whole paradigm of how I thought about the research, turning it into ‘How can we take this solid foundation and turn it into a business?'” says Smith Claudel.
As Smith Claudel neared commencement in 2017, she acquired her first order for supplies from the Chicago Public Library, the place her work had been creating within the Media Lab. She nonetheless remembers ending her grasp’s work by hand-building every of these early units in MIT’s makerspaces, utilizing CNC machines and hours of sanding, portray, and gluing.
The firm’s first set of supplies consists of pixel boards that show how computer systems render pictures via 1s and 0s and a “binary tree” that introduces the idea of information constructions because the youngster connects the branches and builds the tree.
“With the binary tree, a 2- or 3-year-old can start playing using what we call sensory exploration,” says Smith Claudel. “What they do is experiment and discover through a physical process. They begin to see that things fit together. They start to build something, to get a sense of balance. They also notice that the pieces have different shapes and colors, so they build these models. They learn from that whole process.”
Learning Beautiful additionally gives help and academic supplies for lecturers.
“We learned early on that you can’t just give someone new material and expect them to be familiar with an unfamiliar subject, so we created children’s books, a full curriculum, lesson plans, and then training,” says Smith Claudel.
When the college closed throughout the pandemic, the workforce developed directions for studying actions at dwelling and provided them free to oldsters and lecturers. The delay additionally gave them time to plan their subsequent batch of supplies, which can be launched within the coming 12 months.
“A break can be healthy,” says Smith Claudel. “Especially to start with [of the pandemic]our angle was, what may we make that will be helpful proper now?
Helping everybody study superbly
Lately, the corporate has targeted on scaling its trainer schooling efforts, together with by establishing a digital coaching program.
Last fall, after partnering with an Iowa college district, Learning Beautiful hosted a coaching workshop with 250 lecturers, every receiving their very own supplies to take again to their lecture rooms.
Smith Claudel additionally believes her supplies might help a wider vary of kids than computer-based studying applications. Learning Beautiful has even began discussions with colleges in different international locations that would not have entry to electrical energy.
“I think accessibility is very important on a number of different levels,” says Smith Claudel. “We all learn differently, so providing different types of learning opportunities is crucial. We use sound and touch in our materials and we’ve had early conversations about working with blind children because the materials don’t rely solely on vision.”
The following Learning Beautiful merchandise transcend pc science to encourage ecological considering and assist youngsters perceive environmental programs round them and their colleges.
As the corporate’s gross sales develop, it has developed a program the place proceeds from gross sales to 1 group might help fund donations to communities with fewer assets.
“Hands-on learning is effective for all of us,” says Smith Claudel. “For kids, most of their brain development takes place between zero and three, so physical interaction is so rich — understanding spatial relationships, how to hold things, how to use their bodies, how to take and process input from the world in their minds. That’s what MIT’s motto ‘mind and hand’ is all about: this connection between the physical experiences and what we are building in our minds.”