Tinkering in Denmark and Sweden


Over the past few weeks, I've had the chance to travel around Europe for a series of workshops and presentations about learning through tinkering. For the first half of the trip I was in Billund, Denmark to work with the local library system and then in Gothenberg, Sweden for a mini-residency with the Strawbees team.


The first stop on the trip was LEGO house, a new state of the art museum focused on the “LEGO idea” featuring many activities that use LEGO bricks in interesting ways. LEGO house was the host of a conference about making and play in Danish libraries.

There were about 100 attendees at the conference interested in exploring ways to incorporate a tinkering mindset into their programs. Many libraries in Denmark are carving out spaces and getting digital tools but are still in the beginning stages of sharing ideas and prototyping these types of workshops. 

But close by the LEGO House, the Billund Library is testing out many ideas in terms of making and tinkering that could serve as an inspiring examples. The theme of my talk was to encourage librarians to try small changes to their practice and it was great to see to have this makerspace as an example.

I also got the chance to facilitate LEGO art machines with Amos Blanton and Liam Nilsen from the LEGO Idea Studio, a nearby makerspace for LEGO staff and guests. Prototyping this activity was one of the last projects that Nicole and I worked on in the Tinkering Studio and it was fun to see the latest updates including a new ‘choose your own adventure’ style guide that offers base models and possibilities for different pathways.


The day ended with a tour of the LEGO House. It was interesting to see the museum and get a sense of the activities (although there were few other visitors). I can imagine that as a kid (or adult) obsessed with LEGO it would be pretty fun to have nearly unlimited resources for building. But it also reinforced my instinct that combining other materials with LEGO (or presenting other similar systematic tools for making) might encourage deeper tinkering.


I got the chance to spend a little bit of time just hanging out with Amos and Liam in the Idea Studio. We didn’t have too much time to prototype, but was fun to revisit the ideas of machines that move through feedback loops.


Experimentation with new ideas continued on my next stop in Gothenburg, Sweden where I spent a mini residency with the team at Strawbees. I’ve had the chance to run into and collaborate with “the Eriks” for the past several years, and recently my friend Lindsay Balfour who had previously worked at CCM, joined the strawbees team.


They are working on some really interesting ideas for starter sets, classroom kits and projects that incorporate computation with the quirkbot microcontroller. It was my first time programming with the device and it was really fun to get the chance to play around with the tool.

Erik demonstrated an awesome light sensitive flapping bird that he had been working on and I got the chance to mess around with straw construction techniques and programming. It was a bit of a challenge to learn the language of the materials, but after a couple hours we had created some fun prototypes.


As well, it was great to spend time with the creative group at Strawbees. They have assembled a fun team of educators and designers, and I really appreciated being around as they played with materials, worked on documentation and had fun together.


While in Sweden, Lindsay and I also traveled to Stockholm to visit some places and people involved in the tinkering world. We had an impromptu building session on the train experimenting with the paper circuits and data mapping project that we've been working on with the Nexmap Open Data Open Minds project.


When in Stockholm, we met with Daniel and Olle from Tekniska Museet and got a tour of their exhibitions and workshop spaces. They’re working on a mobile makerspace as well as incorporating a lot of strawbees projects into their activities. 

Before hopping on the train back to Gothenburg we met with some locals who are experimenting with incorporating making and tinkering in local schools and libraries. Although it was an impromptu meeting over coffee, I think that it could be a good first step to be establishing a meet up of maker educators like BAME (but renamed SMEM for "Stockholm maker educator meetup").


It was a great time in Denmark and Sweden sharing ideas, learning from locals and prototyping new materials and ideas. For the second half of the trip I headed south to Portugal and Spain. I’ll report on the experience in the next blog post recapping part two of this European tinkering adventure.