Learning Spaces #1 - Build a project nest

Surround yourselves with the artefacts of what you have learned, your ideas and progress.

 A learning wall that reflects the emerging nature of your project is something that will help you develop new ideas.

The Why

Productivity and creativity guru Scott Belsky calls it a Done Wall, Google Ventures' Jake Knapp calls it The War Room of a project. In short, for longer, deeper thinking projects we need a physical space that is a continual reminder of the work that is going on, what has been completed. The space for your project will help keep ideas bubbling away and will create a point of interest to talk about and refer to. Having one physical space is a vital component in getting all the information from a project's immersion phase into one space, meaning digital resources need to be made physical, too.

The Experiment

Building a project nest is a developmental process, not something that has boundaries. It is added to incrementally and over the course of your project. Throughout our work with a large fashion brand in London we built small display cases of ideas for teams to use. These project nests then grew with the new material discovered by teams through their interviews, research and observations. In the final showcase, weeks later, the project nest shows 'assessors' of ideas, where those ideas came from, where the information was discovered and reveals the research skills of the student or participant in the process.

For the schools we work with they can dedicate a wall space that becomes a working wall. In a primary school in South Brisbane, Australia they have a whole room dedicated to the artefacts of their project. Whichever way you decide to do it, the fact that there is a messy learning space that learners or members of a team can contribute to, provides a ongoing support to project work.

This can work with even your youngest learners. Nami Kim at American School in Japan Early Learning Center, Tokyo, has her youngest kindergartners create their own 'frames' in which their learning journey can be posted, by them, as they feel they've learned something and want to show it.

You might also think about creating a teacher-based project nest throughout a semester or school year for all staff to collect, share and group their teaching and learning strategies, just as Kathleen McLean and colleagues at Ormeau Primary School, Queensland, have done (above, left). This is what Knapp refers to more as a War Room - a dedicated space for a specific, longer project involving a series of shorter, more intense design sprints to get things done in a short period of time.

The Google Ventures War Room: Meetings around a desk just kill energy. Having the right space for each task makes a difference.

Take a look at the following next steps to help you make the most of your project nest.

Jon Kolko, "The Designers of Design Synthesis"

Your Next Steps

  • Start with Number One: create a staffroom project nest where artefacts on teaching and learning can be collected, synthesised into clusters and shared on an ongoing basis.
  • Keep items, ideas and resources in students' eyeline - it helps motivate them and spot connections they might not catch first time around on the material.
  • Make the wall or space as accessible as possible - especially to children, they need to feel they can contribute anything throughout the early part of their project thinking.
  • Encourage all sorts of contributions from those you work with, but do not group them too much.
  • Allow your wall space to be messy and jumbled to reflect the breadth of ideas and coverage in the first part of your topic. (Don't worry you will organise it later on)
  • Add a table space to help display objects or things brought in from home.
  • Encourage children to use the space to publish their ideas and early work, using it to provoke discussion.
  • Plan for children to have the opportunity to discuss what is displayed with their peers.
  • Share with the wider learning community or internal teams.
  • Post screenshots of videos you use with your group and images from any events as a reminder of those moments. Get the digital into the physical (more on that in Jon Kolko's research, cited above).
  • Use post-it notes as a way to leave comments on other people's work.
  • Take a look at Google Ventures' guide for creating a "War Room", down to what furniture you might procure to create a special bespoke place for more complex learning or school-wide projects.
Tom Barrett
March 06, 2013