Project: Playful Invention and Exploration (PIE)

Authors: Mark St. John, Becky Carroll, Jenifer Helms, Anita Smith

Type: Report

Publication: October 2008

Playful Invention and Exploration (PIE) Institute Project Evaluation

Executive Summary (pdf, 4 pages)

Full Report (pdf, 33 pages)


PIE (Playful Invention and Exploration) is a unique approach to learning that centers on the use of technology and design challenges to create powerful learning experiences in informal education settings. PIE activities involve imagination, invention and construction. People are challenged to envision a product with certain features and capabilities; they then are given a choice of materials to work with; they are encouraged to construct what they have envisioned; and they learn from the materials as they proceed. The PIE approach embeds inquiry in the context of design and creation: informal audiences are supported in imagining, constructing, learning, refining and then re-imagining – continuing to loop through this cycle of envisioning and experimentation. Integrating art, science and technology, PIE also involves some use of new digital technologies as well as more old-fashioned tinkering with hand tools, glue guns, and other simple construction materials.

Overall, we have found the PIE work to be innovative, highly engaging and very meaningful to participants. It has also resulted in significant broader contributions to the field of informal science education institutions. In this report, we will summarize the findings from our study of PIE Institute project, beginning with a brief description of the project and its activities, an analysis of the PIE philosophy and approach to teaching and learning, and an illumination of the key elements or defining characteristics of the PIE approach. We follow with a discussion of the contributions the PIE Institute project has made to its participants: personally and professionally, to their programs, and to their institutions. We will also discuss the important contributions the PIE project has made to the field of informal science education institutions. The third major section is a discussion of some of the challenges the project has faced, and opportunities going forward.

Intended Audience

Workshop and Maker-communities, Science Educators, Museum Educators, Professional Development Providers, Teachers, and general public


Any and all errors are claimed by the authors of this document, Inverness Research, Inc.

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