Fostering Creative Learning through Coding and Making in Brazil

From the Brazilian Hour of Code website

The collaboration between the Media Lab and the Lemann Foundation, to support creative learning in Brazil, is moving forward at a fast pace. In just the past week, the two organizations launched a website to support participation in the Brazilian Hour of Code (including a Scratch tutorial project inspired by the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro) and also selected 20 organizations to create makerspaces for learning in Brazil.

The Lemann Creative Learning Program, which is part of a larger agreement signed between MIT and Lemann Foundation, has the ambitious mission of helping Brazilian public schools, afterschool centers, and families engage in learning practices that are more hands-on and centered on students’ interests and ideas. In order to do so, the program focuses on coding, making, and local capacity building.

A team from the Lemann Foundation visits the Media Lab to brainstorm ways of building capacity for creative learning on a local level in Brazil.

The main goal of the “coding” front is to help Brazilian children and youth use the Scratch programming language (developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Media Lab) to create interactive art, games, simulations, stories, and other forms of personal expression. Although Scratch is already being used by more than 7,000,000 people worldwide, it still faces challenges that prevent its broader adoption, especially in areas with low access to technology and where English is not widespread. As part of the Lemann Creative Learning Program, the Scratch team is tackling those issues by creating new online tutorials and materials, implementing better mechanisms for people to search for projects created in their native language, and providing ways for newcomers to join the Scratch community without requiring a personal email address. Even though the new features have been inspired by the specific challenges for Brazilian users, they will benefit millions of learners from around the world who live in similar situations.

Most of the applications for the “makerspace for learning” grant came from Brazilian public schools. Clockwise from the largest percentage, the labels translate: Public school; Private school; Library; Makerspace; Museum; Community organization; Social enterprise.

Regarding making, the main objective is to provide young people with appropriate tools and support to create personally meaningful artifacts in the physical world such as innovative toys, new home decorations, futuristic outfits, and even community solutions. The first step involved a call for proposals inviting educators, artists, researchers, and entrepreneurs to create 20 new makerspaces that foster hands-on creative learning in public schools all over the country. Rather than merely promoting the construction of computer labs with 3D printers and other high-tech equipment, the emphasis is on innovative ideas that put students at the center and facilitate connections between schools and Brazil’s rich tradition in the arts, crafts, and manufacturing. To everyone’s surprise, the initiative received more than 250 applications. The team selected 20 of the proposals and is now figuring out a mechanism to build a social network involving everyone, not just the winning projects.

In the “capacity building” realm, the intention is to go all the way from helping teachers in their daily practices, to working with local entrepreneurs in the development of new technologies and services that support creative learning in the Brazilian context. Our hope is to share the Media Lab’s experience and inspire many other initiatives in the same spirit. To do so, we have already organized a Brazilian think/action tank to craft the capacity building strategy and are planning a series of online and face-to-face initiatives to put the ideas in motion. Just last week, the MIT Media Lab hosted representatives from the Lemann Foundation and two of its close partners — the Telefonica Vivo Foundation, and Projeto Ancora, a highly innovative school located on the outskirts of Sao Paulo.

Transforming education is a complex challenge that involves the concerted efforts of highly committed, creative, and competent people from different backgrounds over long periods of time. Building on the strengths of both the Lemann Foundation and of the MIT Media Lab, the Lemann Creative Learning Program represents a great opportunity to connect like-minded initiatives and build a movement to bring real change to Brazil. If you are interested in joining the network, please contact

Leo Burd is a researcher in the Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten research group, where he focuses on the design of technologies for creative learning and social empowerment.