This site is now an archive. For the current version of LCL, please visit

What are the non-negotiables of creative learning?


In our side group discussion today someone from El Salvador expressed concern that he would need to have all the computer bells and whistles in order to have a proper clubhouse. I contend that no, creative learning can be done with even the most basic elements, and without expensive computer equipment, if that's not available to you for whatever reason.

One thing we are doing in the learning events we design, is taking somewhat didactic, boring ideas/concepts, PPT slides, etc., and we deconstruct them into interactive games. This creates a situation where learners have to get up out of their chairs, and suddenly they are thrown into an active learning situation that doesn't necessarily cost a lot in special equipment. We find that having a way to view videos for video discussion starters is really valuable because people learn from an deeper emotional perspective when they see stories of change in video format, however, we could also print out transcripts and read them together if we didn't have video capability.

From my experience, the bells and whistles and expensive equipment don't in and of themselves create the creative learning environment, it's more about creating safe learning spaces where people feel comfortable experimenting with exploration and different/new ways of thinking, whether its experimenting with writing poetry that only requires a paper and pencil, or if it's creating Scratch programming on a computer. So to me, the non-negotiables of creating creative learning environments is more about the philosophy of creative learning that's infused in the room as opposed to the equipment in the room at any given time.

What do you think are the necessary elements to creating a creative learning environment? Discuss...


Thanks for sharing this, Shari. I agree that expensive computer equipment is not necessary for a creative learning space, and your work is an inspiring example. At the end of the Clubhouse reading, we encourage the ideas to be applied in different environments in different ways. I grew up without computers, but fortunate to have creative learning supported. I'll be interested to hear what others say...


I agree with the idea of keeping tools set apart from actual non-negotiables of creative learning. The tools are just there to support projects people are passionate about. For this reason, they are important and there are certainly conducive and less-conducive ways to offer available tools. There may even be some staple tools for the capability to support some projects (for example, speakers or headphones for music projects), but this ties in with something important about a creative learning space: they evolve.

I have seen many videos and read many stories about how participants in creative learning spaces may begin to take initiatives to help improve their community and the world around. One way this may take form is in helping to shape and improve the creative learning space itself. So while a creative learning space does not have to have a 3D printer or laser cutter to be a successful and engaging creative learning space, I think it should have the openness to evolve based on interests.

Maybe funds are not available for something like a 3D printer. In a case like this, if enough participants show enough interest maybe the participants themselves can figure out how to help get one (fundraiser, etc). For instance, my Makerspace only got a shared community 3D printer within this past year. We did this through member donations.


This topic really interests me, as I am trying to develop a mobile library/makerspace that can travel around to schools for migrant children in our city in China. We have to do all the fundraising ourselves unless a very generous corporate donor appears. I'm still not sure what the elements should be, but I think we will definitely need to have LEGO!

Your point about creating a safe learning environment is essential. In the situation I'm talking about with migrant students, this element may take longer to develop than in a more traditional space.


@shari asked > What do you think are the necessary elements to creating a creative learning environment?

The number one element required for a creative learning environment is safety. Fear of being punished or put down for doing something odd or different prevents people from reaching a creative mindset.

Another important element for creativity is time. It takes time unlike those current factory apportioned 45 minutes time periods that are rudely interrupted by ringing bells.

If you study creative spaces you will always find inspiring people like @jackiez who works in the Computer Clubhouse and was a part of yesterday’s presentation. Information passed from a teacher to a student is not transformational. Learning that happens in an environment conducive to creative processes is transformational and people who inspire others are foundational to creative learning. Don’t inform people, inspire them.

Resources like 3d printers or many of the pieces that used to be found in vocational courses will arrive in one of many ways when the basics; Safety, Time, and Inspiring Leaders show up as a norm for people everyday.


Preamble: My current ideal is to be involved in communities of adults that have the feel of Vivian Paley’s kindergarten classrooms. From The Girl with the Brown Crayon, Paley: “I need the intense preoccupation of a group of children and teachers inventing new worlds as they learn to know each other’s dreams” (p. 50). “Kindergartners are passionate seekers of hidden identities and quickly respond to those who keep unraveling the endless possibilities” (p. 4); they “search for the mirror of self-revelation” (p. 8).

Against that backdrop one answer to Shari's question is:
Persistent exploration, serendipity, identity formation-in-relationship

Persistence in exploring makes serendipity more likely; the unintended connections (or unplanned conjunctions) help clarify our sense of directedness or our identity. What is exploration? A: Paying attention and learning about things that are unfamiliar. If “things” are taken to include strands of oneself (thinking, body, skills, etc.), other people, materials or media, or topics (areas of knowledge), then exploration of each thing is connected to the exploration of the others. Why explore? A: It can be rewarding in the sense of expanding our identity—who we are and what we are capable of—whether directly or through serendipitous connections—and this experience reinforces our persistence in exploring. Indeed, each point in the schema reinforces the others, which is necessary given that exploration, like a journey into unfamiliar or unknown areas, involves risk, opens up questions, creates more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, requires support, and yields personal change.
(extracted from and


pj, I really like what you're bringing out about serendipity, it's one of those intangible things that we cannot hold or see, but great things often happen because of serendipity. How often have we all heard the phrase "it's all about being in the right place at the right time..." The more you experiment and reach out to others, the more chance you will fail probably, but also the more chance you will have to bump into some kindred spirit who gets where you're going and wants to join in.

In fact, this is exactly how my current work unfolded over the last year since LCL1. I had invited a small group of colleagues to join me on this LCL journey, not knowing how on earth we would ever take what we learned here - assuming I could learn anything from MIT (maybe I wasn't going to be smart enough to grasp the concepts!) and anything in the course would relate to my non-digital work world - and in the end, only one of my group of colleagues ended up really taking the course seriously. We started reaching out to each other near daily, sharing what we gleaned from that week's readings, ruminations and assignments. We started co-creating a shared language that we both could understand, and in the end it changed our lives, both professionally and personally. So yeah, all of that happened because of serendipity. We were both in the right place at the right time, both looking for something new and different. We were both open to exploration despite not knowing where we were going or where the journey would take us.

In fact, one of the main aspects of our re-tooled learning events is that we talk about the concept of a "full body response" - one where you have to bring your full being to the work, you cannot wear a work hat and then walk out the door to go home and put on your personal life hat, you have to bring ALL of you to the table at all times. It's non negotiable.

mpoole, I also really like your comment about safe learning spaces.

That is a philosophical element of necessity that is so obvious, and yet so stifled in many "learning" spaces. Dare I say, most learning spaces are really "teaching" spaces, meant for top down, teacher driven agendas. But a true learning space is one where anyone is welcome, and nothing is too weird or bizarre to explore - everything is worth exploring. That safety, in my opinion, is the foundational essence of creative learning. If we created a "Creative Learning Periodic Table" (oh someone please take the time to do this!), I think "safety" (Sf) would be as important as Oxygen is in the regular table of elements!

That's got me thinking what elements we'd put in that table: Safety (Sf), Play (Pl), Tinkering (Tk2), Sharing (Sh)...what else?!


Students, ideas and outcomes...The rest (including teachers could be negotiable. I saw many children creating and learning in the neighborhoods of Mexico City. Powerful ideas arise form their games with any kind of objects.


To maximize the benefits of creative spaces you also need that piece Sugata Mitra discovered or closer to home the role it appears Jackiez plays to some extent in the Computer Clubhouse. Mitra called it the Granny Effect but @jackiez is clear evidence granny like wisdom is not reserved for older folks. These people are like H2o to plants as they respond with phrases like Wow, how did you do that! Is this NUrturing?


For me too there is serendipity in LCL 2013 happening at a time when I was exploring how to use online tools to extend the community for my graduate program ( to include students away from Boston. There was a lot of persistence in learning from failures in convening google+ communities then going on to host Collaborative Explorations each month since ( I have also been exploring my identity, but I'm not sure what I'd offer as evidence of that -- perhaps posts on one of my blogs --


pj, I have always loved the idea of "Failure Fairs", where we celebrate our screw ups, and show what we learned from them. I'm all for awards, trophies, etc. for the biggest, most totally awesome long as you learn from it, it's never a total loss, but we just don't talk about the road mishaps that got us where we end up. We do a sort of version of Failure Fairs in our learning events and people seem to really embrace that aspect and it's almost freeing to say, "hell yeah, I screwed this up and it's not working at all, anyone got any ideas how to fix it?" That's where co-learning comes in and the Peer to Peer approach, which in our events is the most powerful and most valued of the learning dynamics. Participants always want more face time with their colleagues from other countries, so they can learn from each other. The facilitator fades into the background and/or becomes a co-learner too in those situations and it's a great moment when it happens.


I've never heard of Failure Fairs. I love th idea!


Serendipity? Just before reading your post I was looking for my plan for a faculty workshop hour (or so) on teaching that I ran some years ago. The first activity was a variant of your Failure Fair. In order to acknowledge (so as to move beyond) the fact that the reviewers for a college professor's promotions are likely to overlook or discount things we have done in our teaching, I asked participants to use notecards to write anonymously their fears/bad experiences in this regard. Some of these were read out and then we shifted to explore ways that teaching (like all things in life?) needed to have value in itself for ourselves (


pj, your use of cards to express deep, personal opinions in a group setting is aligned with a human rights based approach we use often called VIPP - Visualization in Participatory Planning. It has an entire methodology that isn't necessarily important to know, other than it's a great rights based method to getting everyone involved in a discussion because there is safety in expressing yourself honestly if everyone uses the same color cards and same color markers. We have several colors and shapes of VIPP cards we use in learning events, and every participant gets a black Sharpie marker so that nobody can ID a card's writer by the color of their pen/marker. We also use VIPP cards to ensure that even the shyest participants have the opportunity to get their voices heard, and we use the various colors and shapes of cards to sort out as a larger group discussion. So you can use certain shapes or colors for main headings, sub headings, etc. and have a visual categorization of the dialogue in question. It's great for planning, mind mapping, etc. Very cool that you used that approach. It's so simple, yet very powerful when you can enable someone to have their voice heard, who might otherwise sit quietly throughout a meeting/event.

As I was replying to pj's post, I re-read this thread and found this image a few minutes later - not mine - and thought perhaps another non-negotiable of creative learning is feeling like your own creative gears are oiled up and exploding with exploration. This image hit me that way...maybe it's hokey but I liked it...beyond gears of childhood and more like gears of my adulthood. I am torn as to whether I should read these gears from bottom up or top down. Bottom up feels like going from simplicity to complication, but with an explosion of opportunity. Going from top down feels to me like taking too many ideas and culling them down to a more streamlined and simplistic approach. Thoughts?


I would recommend littleBits as well. They teach young people how to do electronics and linear programming through a creative process very similar to LEGO. Plus they are lightweight and compact, so they travel very well. However, they are not cheap.


+Shari (and others reading this thread) -- would you be interested in some non-disruptive metaMOOCing? (see )


Serendipitously I found this fascinating thread of discussion. I am intrigued with the idea of finding the "zen" or basic elements of creativity and intellectually wrangling about whether we would be able to tease out the negotiables from the non-negotiables of creative learning. Would anyone be interested in developing the idea generated (by Shari?) of a Creative Learning Periodic Table for this week's activity? You have already brainstormed a great list and we could potentially keep it "fluid" and ask for input from a broader group of peers with us on the LCL creativity highway. PJ- I'm in the Boston area too!


PiLady, I would love to collaborate on that with you and whomever else, if folks in this thread would like to do that as well. I cannot make the actual Creative Learning Periodic Table because I'm buried at work right now, but I could brainstorm on a group call/discussion thread if someone were able to whip up such a table... will respond to your other post over the weekend...


I whipped up a preliminary Table but had all kinds of technical problems trying to fit the Creativity elements into an "empty" periodic table chart perhaps because it was from the web. I just tried to upload it to this message and it would not work. Plan B- can I send you an email direct with the docs?

I also want to add a key that would select one of the cells and show:
Sa ------ Creative element symbol
Safety---Creative element name

I have not categorized any of the preliminary elements in the Table- but this could be interesting to do at some point (by environment? Passion, peers, project..? negotiables/non-negotiables?) I think the Table has many possible uses; and potential variations- such as combining various elements from the Table, such as Sa +Pl (safety and play).
Has there been any further discussion on this thread that I might have missed?
Interested in everyone's thinking...


Hi Barbara, I don't think you missed any other discussion...I know I'm swamped with work right now so I've been lagging on replying, apologies.

pj or James, could you perhaps assist Barbara with the Table for the time being? Barabara, I'll PM you and you can send to me, but I'm not sure how much I can help at the moment...let's hope we get some reinforcements!


@shari This is really interesting to me but I probably shouldn't get involved in more projects than I already am. I kind of jumped the gun before this week's activity and created a billion threads for different projects (and likewise have continued my habit of over-committing for offline projects). It is a really cool idea, though.


For 15 years I worked with teachers from rural areas of Latin America. Here are photos of some of the games, costumes, etc. we created with recycled and/or simple materials.


drcrh, thank you for sharing your vibrant images. Could you share a bit more about what each photo is of and how it represents the work you're doing in Latin America? I am happy to see your use of available resources because sometimes folks think they need expensive computers and electronic gadgetry to "keep up with creativity" and I personally am all about the "analog" side of creativity, using whatever you've got at hand. Sort of like, "Creativity By Any Means Possible", as it were!

Looking forward to learning and hearing more about the work you do.


Thank you for your interest, Shari!

For 15 years (up until last June when the program ended) I was the head instructor for the SEED Program, funded by USAID, administered through Georgetown University in DC and offered at a few sites in the US. My program was at Palo Alto College in San Antonio. Each year one or more groups of 20 teachers from rural areas were chosen by their governments to study in the US for a year and return to be change agents for their communities. We focused on the teachers and their own creativity as the best resources for their schools that often lacked books, electricity, potable water, safety, etc. With them we found ways to use the natural environment, their own histories and cultures, and simple and recycled materials to teach all the subjects. The pictures show a few examples. (1) We investigated ecological issues using activities from Project Wild and other resources. This a game called, "Baby Turtle's Challenge." Some players are baby turtles and others are predators/problems the turtles must overcome in order to survive 10 years and then reproduce. (We saved many, many bottle tops, old blocks, etc., for our games.) (2) These are plane and solid shapes we made, explored and compared, using drinking straws and string. (3) One of our math teachers showed them how to create many math manipulatives, such as this abacus constructed from pony beads and popsicle sticks. (4) This is me! We had an active approach to reading. For this lesson, we read "Anansi, the Spider," created spider costumes from trash bags and adding machine tape, and then danced to "Mbube" by Miriam Makeba to retell the story.(5) The last picture is from another program of ours, New World Kids, offered after school in Dallas by Big Thought teachers. We provide the curriculum and teacher training. This group made "fancy hats" and "twirly sticks" from newspaper and other recycled papers. Check out for more about this program.