The experimenting community is a group of people experimenting together. The reason for being together is to try out, to play and experiment with everything from paper over robots to mobile phones. When you are in an experimenting community, you ask questions and look for answers. That means that you look for and find ways to establish a new pedagogical practise together with the children in your pre-school or kindergarten. You do not only copy an existing way of using a learning tool as it might be suggested by the producer of the tool. You try to find new ways of using this tool.
PLAYING AND EXPERIMENTING TOGETHER
Let´s say you want to use a Bee-bot. That is robots the size of a hand, that is meant to be programmed to roll forwards and turn left or right in small steps on at mat with a grid, that can be placed on the floor. The first question, you can ask the children and yourself is “What does this technology do?”. There are probably manuals and ideas for activities and games to follow and probably videos online to watch to see how it can be done. In these pre-defined activities both purpose and methods are most likely demonstrated. But soon you can start to do something more and end up asking the question “What do we want these technologies to do?”. You can for example remove the Bee-bot from the mat and ask the children to find out how it moves around on different surfaces, even ones where the bee-bots maneuver with difficulties. When you do this, you and the children both find the limitations and the possibilities in using the Bee-bot and you are on the way to find new uses for the Bee-bot. Maybe you and the children can make new games, where the bee-bot has to move around in new surroundings. The point is not whether you make something very unusual or expensive, but that you do an experiment together with the children, you are responsible for.
The “we” in the question “what do we want these technologies to do?”, are you and the children. But it could be many more than that. This experimenting community can consist of all kinds of people. In a kindergarten or a pre-school it is at least the children and the pre-school teachers or the pedagogues. But researchers, neighbours, family, people living in the local area and others can also be part of an experimenting community. There are in principle no limits to whom it might consist of, as long as everybody gets the possibility to take an active part. It is not easy to say how many people an experimenting community consists of, but it will in practice often be the group of children, you work with and then some you invite to be part of the community for a shorter or longer period of time.
Children playing and you playing together with the children is a part of the experimenting community. When children play, they are capable of something quite interesting. They can both copy and change, when they play. That means they can play the same play in the same way for years and years and they can change it on the spot if needed. That means, they can both do the games with the Bee-bots as intended by the producers and they can change it. They can both understand and use the rules, when the Bee-bots are used on the mat with the grid and they make new rules up, when using the Bee-bot on the mat in new ways or outside the mat on the floor or any other surface.
When you as a pre-school teacher or a pedagogue work with play, then you work with the notion of culture. It is a term open for many understandings, but you can say, that it has to do with how people do what they think is important in their everyday life. They try to make meaning through the actions, they do. In this case children have a play-culture, where they play together in certain ways and they make the rules for this themselves. In the experimenting community the children and the pre-school teacher or the pedagogue make meaning though experimenting. It is of the outmost importance for those who participate in such a community to experiment, as the community unfolds both its culture and life itself.
The roles of the pre-school teacher and the pedagogue are somewhat different in the experimenting community than you might expect. Basically you are inside the community and part of the process. You might not know all the answers and not all results. The questions you ask are in that sense real questions. You are much more than a facilitator guiding the children. You are a Participator, as you participate in the process. This you can do in four different ways. You are still the guide, who makes sure everybody has a chance to participate. You are also the the master, as you might know more about what the subject in question, than the children do. You are even an agent, who wants to be part of the group on a personal level and make the local culture function.
But as you are taking part of processes in an experimenting community, where you don´t know all of the answers, you are first and foremost the participant. The one who as an adult and a responsible pre-school teacher or pedagogue leads the experiments without knowing the results in advance. Your knowledge of and your abilities to use any given technology or media or what to do with a challenge is based on you working from the inside, but it also changes what you know and is capable of. During the lifetime of an experimenting community, you get to know more and more and is more and more capable of experimenting.
THE OPEN LAB
The way the experimenting community works is through what is called open laboratories. The open lab is open in three different ways. First of all it is open to the combination of digital and analogue materials and tools. Paper is not more important than mobiles nor the other way round.
Secondly it takes place in an exchange between the physical and the virtual. The open lab uses the internet to seek for information and inspiration, contact and communication. The open lab works both as a physical place inside the kindergarten or the pre-school and extends itself into a virtual place using chatrooms, social media or online games like Minecraft. Returning to the example of the Bee-bot, that could mean, that the pre-school teacher and the children uploaded images or videos on how one could use a Bee-bot and looked for others, who did the same. On Minecraft one could build buildings and landscapes together, which then again cloud be used as inspiration for buildings and landscapes, the bee-bots has to move through in the local kindergarten and pre-school.
Thirdly and finally the open lab is open to investigate other ways of using Bee-bots, than the pre-school teacher and the children had thought of. In practice it is a process of opening the lab up towards the world and a pedagogy that understands itself as part of a network. If the pre-school or the kindergarten start up with having no actual or any important contact with the outside world through the internet, then it takes time to establish all that and even enter a continuing dialogue with someone else.
STARTING UP THE EXPERIMENT
How does one do an experiment? It would be cool to have a fancy expensive lab with all the latest high-tech gear. But it is not needed. The local nursery, kindergarten or pre-school can all be existing and important places to make experiments. It would also be cool to have the latest robot, the latest 3D-printer or the latest mobile phone to investigate the future technologies. And of course, if you can cooperate with a company, a lab or other schools to get your hands on such new stuff and some support on how to use it, then that is absolutely fine. But it is not necessary. Your starting point can be somewhere else.
Like any other activity, you plan, you think of your children in your pre-school, the space, you have and the time at hand. Do you have a space on the floor, where you can do your activity? Do you have a shelf or a box, where you can store stuff until nest time you or the children are going to do something about it? Do you have some designated time to prepare, carry out or reflect upon it all? Do you have someone to ask, books to consult, videos on the internet to be inspired by? What do your children, you work with, know about the subject in question already, and what might their reactions be?
All the questions above are the questions, you probably would ask anyway no matter the activity. So that is probably not new to you. It might be new to do an experiment and talk about it with the children, but even that you probably have done before. Basically when you do an experiment you ask the question What happens if…? Children can do this as well. If they pour water on some dirt and change it into mud with their hands, you could say, that they are curious and try find out something through an experiment. If they press the buttons on top of a Bee-bot, a small robot, they are trying to find out, what it can do and in that sense is conducting an experiment. My guess is that you have seen children do stuff like this before.
Any technology, digital or analogue, is a tool to do the experiment. Anything can become tools to do an experiment: robots, crayons and branches from the forest.
There is no problem in following instructions from a manual, when you start doing an experiment together with some children. If you use an Ozobot, new crayons or a strange rotten branch picked up in the forest, you can ask this question to yourself and the children as a help: What does this technology DO? The robot can follow a black line, the crayons makes broad lines in different colors and the branch can easily break into smaller pieces.
When you have done, what the people behind the manual proposes, you can start asking another question: What do WE want to do with this technology? Here you look for other options based on what you and the children would like to examine. What happens if the robots follow a red line? Or a thick black line? What happens if the crayons are used for making an area and not a line? What happens if the branch is used as a mobile phone with a long antenna as part of as roleplay? Or the pieces of the branch could be used as a part of a labyrinth, where the robots move around depending on the colors.
The moment when the last questions starts to become important is when you ask the children to do something different from before or see if something new happens. You could simply ask the children to use other colors than black or a mix of different colors just to see what happens with the movements of the Ozobot. They might come up with this idea themselves, and if they do, you can encourage them. This is not wrong to do. It just gives another answer than the manual and that is the very moment, when you and the children start to find out you want to use the technology for. The same goes for the use of the crayons and the use of the rotten branches.
The methods will consist of a practical manual that describes the different pedagogical method and activities developed and tested in the project, using step-by-step guides. This will cover themes like social inclusion, entrepreneurial mindset, entrepreneurial competence compass, combining digital and analogues tools, experimenting communities in preschool education etc.