…In one corner of the room, a student is building an airplane out of popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners and circuitry. At the center of the room, a small group of students is playing games with geometric blocks that teach them math as part of an interactive game…and just outside the studio window…a team of teachers and students are launching small air-born weather balloons that will collect climate data for a joint project with a team of children in South America….

d.School | Institute of Design at Stanford

d.School | Institute of Design at Stanford

Hands-On Learning isn’t entirely new to effective pedagogical practices. Dr. Maria Montessori’s work at the turn of 20th century Italy adapted traditional teacher-taught subjects in the arts and science so children could use physical materials to guide their open-ended research and to follow their individual interests. The child-centered, hands-on approach characterized by Montessori education continues to influence and evolve programs like STE(A)M, PBL

[Project Based Learning], SEL [Social Emotional Learning] and countless practices that tap into a student’s ability to learn through making, testing, sharing and assessing as a tactile feedback loop. Montessori observed that setting up learning environments for hands-on investigation encouraged children to work to a much higher level than most educators thought possible for children from 6-12.

With this long history of interactive learning in place, why do we need to rethink the design of learning environments to enhance hands-on education now?

Because schools are taking hands-on learning to entirely new levels of application and practicality beyond the boundaries of the classroom. And Higher Ed institutions are moving to close the gap between academics and industry by catalyzing real world innovation on campus. And students benefit from opportunities to transform their ideas into viable innovations that make a difference in real world contexts.

It’s a hugely exciting time in education as more and more educators seek to provide places where students can ‘learn-by-making’. Designing learning environments that inspire hands-on learning and experimentation facilitates modes of teaching that include a much wider range of tools and resources. It makes sense that when teachers have ample space, natural daylight, properly designed storage and open work areas available, they are far more likely to create learning opportunities that include ‘making’ and experimentation. While modes of collaborative teaching have radically changed, physical learning environments have a tremen