Half Term Piloting Activity

We have agreed to have some piloted and refined protoypes ready for testing as part of a public half-term offer in the wb. 19th February. So that I can properly arrange this, please can I ask you to complete the doodle poll which can be found at this link…


Based on your availability, I will start to put together a schedule for the week (hopefully I can do this quite quickly!).

Note: it’s helpful if you could indicate all the times your are available in the poll – don’t just indicate your preference, it’ll be a nightmare to organise otherwise!

The Project Plan

Our second project conference day was a resounding success, and we made loads of progress pinning down the practical commitments for the Oubliette. So, get ready for a long email, which you could do with paying very careful attention to! The headlines here are two dimensions of programme update; firstly, on the mathematical activities we’re basing our rooms on, and the teams who will develop them; secondly, on the underlying organisation and mechanics of the space and the narrative which we will embed it in.

Decisions on our Mathematical Mechanisms

Our main commitment was in creating our final shortlist of mathematical mechanisms which we will then prototype and pilot in sub-teams. These agreed teams were as follows (more info on the mechanisms they reference can be found in this document):

Robyn, Sabeeka, Heena, Chloe, Neave :

  • Refraction Room
  • Dance Geometry and/or Floor Grid

Lucy, Jordan, Anna, Maryam and Santiago:

  • Tantrix Puzzle
  • Robot Maze

Maaria, Saher, Rebekah and Jade

  • ‘Golden Idol’ Weight Swap + Rube Machine (combination of the two)
  • Projectile Launcher and/or Pressure Sensors

Sophie, Sanna, Nansin and Paloma

  • Equation-Based Padlocks
  • Cog Construction and/or X-Y drawing machine.

IMPORTANT: If you are not in this list you need to contact me asap with a preference as to which you want to join … there will be a degree of me allocating people, though, to ensure that groups are balanced. I aim to allocate people by Wednesday – so get in touch quickly if you have a preference.

Each team will now work to develop, prototype and pilot a design for their room. I have encouraged groups to do something ‘quick and dirty’ to begin with. Find a cheap and easy way of creating a version of your rooms which can be quickly trialled and refined/re-trialled with friends and family. Ideally, this will happen quite quickly (the next couple of weeks). When you have a bit more confidence in the design of your room, you can work to create a more refined prototype.

Remember, we are aiming to have working prototypes in place by wb 19th February at the very latest so that we can contribute to the half-term EdLab offer.

In support of your prototyping, you may want to draw on two sources of support;

  • Contact me with any small-scale purchases you need. At this stage, things up to £20 are straightforward, and if we need more expensive things, do ask. The easiest way of doing this is to find something on Amazon (ideally, the cheapest version of this) and send me the link.
  • Contact James Ferguson for technical support with the fabrication of prototypes. James is one of our Faculty technicians, and can support with laser cutting, 3d printing, basic electronics, wood construction, etc.

Remember, in designing and prototyping your rooms, we are looking to realise the following qualities:

  • The activities we design should be based on the fundamental commitments of the Oubliette to be a) collaborative and b) embodied in nature. In other words, players shouldn’t be able to solve them without getting up, moving around and working with others.
  • Challenges should be differentiable; we should be able to adapt them to include adults or toddlers (we did note, though, that the latter might be more of a sensory type room, and the ‘challenge’ could require interaction with accompanying parents)
  • They should take 10 to 15 minutes to solve (piloting will be critical to this). To support timings, you should consider ways of giving hints/support if participants are struggling, and a ‘playful’ mode for people who finish early.
  • We should be able to imagine ways of embedding the underlying mechanism into a meaningful challenge
  • There is enough funding to ensure that the space is staffed, but not enough to ensure that there will always be some  one in every room. At least four rooms should be able to have ‘light touch’ supervision, with one student looking after two spaces.
  • We do have the capacity to use technologies (loud speakers, screens/projectors, etc) as a way of managing spaces

We have enough money, and technological support, to do quite fancy things with our rooms – so do have an aspirational wishlist of you’d like them to work. At the same time, though, it’d be good to have some fallback plans for simpler versions.

Decisions on our Game Mechanics and Narratives

The group were very quickly unanimous that they liked the ‘lost in time’ narrative for the space which was originally proposed by Chloe in the first Saturday session. This approach makes it much easier for us to accommodate the episodic, non-linear experience of players moving around the rooms on a carousel. We agreed a core ‘writing team’ who will meet to take responsibility for the overall narrative. This consisted of Chloe (we assumed you’d want to be part of this), Heena, Robyn and Lucy. These four will also contribute to the room development teams, though they may have to give a little less to make space for the narrative development. Their first task will be to meet to flesh out the overarching story (what greets the players as they arrive to the space?) – and to think carefully about how this would be presented differently to different age groups (I’ll let you decide how many ‘versions’ there will be).

The ‘lost in time’ MacGuffin affords room design teams a degree of creative freedom in how they theme their spaces … we could lurch from the ancient mayans to the distant dystopian future. Room design teams can start to think about this, though I’m going to ask the writing team to take ownership of the balance of the overall narrative so be ready to be flexible and defer to them in terms of theming. We’ll also need to think, of course, about the differentiation of the experience within rooms to accommodate different groups.

Next Key Milestones

I would like to reached final confirmation of the working groups by Wednesday of this week, so please contact me if you aren’t allocated asap.

Ideally, I would then like all groups to have prototyped and piloted something for each of their two rooms in the next two weeks. This can be pretty rough and ready, though, and using friends and family to gain insight. You should also start to form a sense of what your ‘next step’ prototype might look like, and have a chat with James about support with fabrication.

In the same timeframe (i.e. the next two weeks), I’d like the narrative group to have met and be ready to share with everybody else in terms of a bit more detailing of the plot.

Keeping Me Updated: Do Some Blogging

Please can I ask for ‘little and often’ blog posts from each team along the way so I can keep track of where we’re up to. At this stage, it’s absolutely fine for one person to take responsibility for a blog update from each meeting, and the others to simply reblog it.

I would like all teams to have produced a summary update blog post on their progress (prototyping and piloting) by 31st January – will reblog these on this main blog so we’re all up to speed

Bonus Material: Towards a Trip

Heena noted how useful it would be for us to visit some escape rooms – so let’s see if we can blag some free trips in exchange for sponsorship. Claire was going to follow up on this with a couple of contacts she has.

EdLab Conference #2

Welcome back to university, and the next phase of your EdLab engagement. In the first conference in December, project teams met to begin to generate possible ideas and directions – and you should have sustained this work, with support through your project coordinators blog – since this point. Our next conference will take place this Saturday (13th) between 10 and 3. Through this day, you will start to form some more concrete plans for the development and execution of your projects, set some milestones and establish responsibilities for the delivery of them.

The agenda for the day will take the following structure:

9.45 – Arrival

10.00 – Keynote: The Seven Deadly Sins of Education – Mark Peace (Lecture Theatre 3)

10.45 – Project Workshops

  • The Oubliette – 2.18
  • Elizabeth Gaskell’s House – 2.17
  • Mobilise Grimm and Co –  2.16
  • Environmental Play –  2.15
  • Early Years Explorers – 2.19
  • The Language of Clay – 2.31
  • The Game Makers – 2.07

12.00 – Working lunch: During this hour, you should work independently in support of tasks developing your project. In addition, the following workshops are available.

  • 12.00 to 12.30: Support with blogging – 3.68 
  • 12.30 to 13.00: Applying for Teacher Training (third year students only) – 2.18

13.00 – Project Workshops (various rooms)

  • The Oubliette – 2.18
  • Elizabeth Gaskell’s House– 2.17 
  • Mobilise Grimm and Co – 2.16
  • Environmental Play –  2.15
  • Early Years Explorers – 2.19
  • The Language of Clay – 2.31
  • The Game Makers – 2.07

14.30 – Plenary: Briefing on your assessed work (Juliette Wilson Thomas) – LT3

Important: Please make sure that you have undertaken any preparatory tasks for your project ahead of this day.


How Does Reading Fit In

In previous posts, we have discussed the pedagogy that underpins EdLab – the ways in which it encourages you to generate theoretical understandings of education on the basis of your enacted experiences running projects. There is no pre-defined knowledge, and you are not expected to demonstrate any specific understandings of content or ideas – what matters is the way in which you develop a rigorous and critical sense of what it is you are producing through your projects.

This is, however, not to say that we do not expect you to undertake outside reading in support of the unit. In part, this will take the form of sleuthing other educational initiatives from which you can take inspiration. It should, however, also involve more conventional academic reading which should be used to inspire deeper analysis of the work that you do, and provide languages to talk about that work in more sophisticated ways. Here are some quick and dirty tips for engaging with reading in ways which will support the EdLab process;

  • Its not what it says, its what it makes you think. Try to avoid an impulse to be able to describe what the author is saying verbatim. Instead, find bits of the writing that make you think things (particularly if they affect how you are thinking about your project).
  • One sentence is enough. Often, students find themselves trying to respond to the whole paper. In some cases, this is appropriate – but equally it might be that one particular thing that the author says (it might even be just one statement) is enough to provoke a useful response.
  • Don’t punish yourself. If you are finding reading hard going, don’t blame yourself! Often, it’s because it is dense (and badly written). Don’t read and reread the same paragraph over and over again if you don’t understand it – read on, and find the bit that does talk to you.
  • Stop and write – particularly if you find yourself struck by a thought. Don’t lose that thinking by finishing the paper; go and write a blog post which starts with a quote from the article, and proceeds with a brain-dump of your thoughts. Then finish the paper.

In the next post, your project coordinator will share a couple of sources that might get you started in this process … but do try to do some independent hunting for sources too!

Some Creative Inspiration

Whilst I’m not aware of any other initiative which has done exactly what we are aiming to do, there are plenty which are in the same spirit from which you might take some creative inspiration – particularly through a commitment to embodied learning.

There are, for instance, lots of installations which engage people with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in physical ways. Most of you will be familiar, for instance with the Experiment as Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) – and perhaps the much larger scale Eureka in Halifax and perhaps Wonderlab at the Science Museum in London. All of these installations are based on a principle of exploring STEM from the outside in, creating tactile, playful experiences through which children might form tacit appreciations of scientific principles around which more traditionally conceptual understandings might form. They also work on a commitment that nurturing wonder, creativity and playfulness are fundamentally important in encouraging sustainable scientific understanding.

Other installations have specifically focused on applying these commitment to mathematics. An American consortium of museums, for instance, created a touring exhibition called Maths Moves! – whilst New York’s MoMath is a permanent museum to the mathematical. These, and other Maths Museums across the world, have exhibits which demonstrate ways of engaging people with embodied Mathematics which we might draw inspiration from in our own designs.

There are also a huge number of initiatives and projects which have engaged people in maths in non-traditional ways without the need for a dedicated museum. Massive Maths, for instance, is a popular grass-roots initiatives. Other examples can be found in the following websites:





Aside from the mathematical focus, of course, our project also draws inspiration from escape room type challenges. Work has already been undertaken around the educational value of escape rooms and, more broadly, the gamification of learning.