Global Children’s Designathon

Freedomlab, Plantagemiddenlaan, Amsterdam.

9.32AM CET

In the superbly light and spacious main hall of Freedomlab, we gather around a standing table covered in brown butcher paper. The doors are held open by a heavy piece of rail: the Amsterdam welcome of the Global Children’s Designathon has started.

Emer Beamer, initiator of today’s gathering, is briefing her team of facilitators, bloggers and builders, whilst the video guy is quietly setting up his equipment in the background. A handful of children (mostly boys) are treating the sitting blocks as Minecraft material: building a green and purple cave home.

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In five locations in the world (Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, Dublin and Amsterdam) groups of 30 children aged 8 to 12 will be working in parallel. They will be designing and building their (tech) solutions for our worlds most pressing problems around food, waste and the future of mobility.
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Unexpect – Where Children Design Better Futures Using New Technologies – has organised this day. It is a one-day crash course in design thinking, new (exponential) technologies and societal problems, for children between 8 and 12. Because these kids can think, fantasise, dream, design and build. They actually care a lot about the issues we discuss today (we think). And they enjoy the sense of empowerment, the idea that they can come up with real solutions. In one day. Later today we will set up videoconferences with the other four locations. Teaching twenty-first century skills across three continents. Wow.

We are all pretty excited and hyped up. Floris is stretching the kids (literally) in a Name-Game warm up. Klaas is introducing the three themes (food, waste and mobility). Time to start. Let’s unexpect and allow the flow to emerge

11.24AM CET

Klaas’ introduction on the three themes already sparked some thoughts. “Today we will invent. You can invent something for a problem that you find important.” The kids (re)learn that ‘waste’ actually does not exist. It is just stuff, that you can do useful things with, like building a birdsnest, a bed, or a ukulele. One of the children mentions that plastic from packaging is a great source of oil. On the spot he invents an oil factory: he just needs to figure out how he will get all the plastic to his factory. Food can be printed, from chocolate or dough. Just add a bit of colour – plain white food does not look very nice. And drones are ideal to pick up stuff in the city. It is very handy that you don’t need a pilot to fly one.

The boys and girls organise themselves. Each first chooses one of the three themes to work on. As expected, the topic of mobility sparks most kids’ imagination.

Time to go creative. We enjoy a brief moment of quiet when the kids work their idea canvases.

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Less than twenty minutes later they present:

  • a chipped car that tells the traffic lights you are there, and which route ahead is least busy
  • cars with onramps so we can drive on top of each other
  • a remote-controlled robot that fishes plastic from the seas.
  • a submarine that uses helium balloons for buoyancy, avoiding the noise from normal ships
  • a greenhouse system as addition to the home to grow food and avoid its transport
  • a street that splits in two during the night, so that the garbage falls into an underground waste collection bin
  • a car in which the driver can only key in his destination (no driving) so that the car avoids accidents
  • a mechanical tree that cleans the air and turns the pollution into 3D printed fruit
  • a robot that collects rubbish and turns it into its own fuel

A little bit peckish, we go for a hearty lunch. Then we will go make.

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13.37 CET

Time to check in with each other. In a five way videoconference we see how the kids in Berlin, Dublin, Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro are doing. Everyone learned how we can use printers to make spaghetti. First a welcome by each of the countries hosts.

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Then a quick presentation of some of the prototypes that the boys and girls are working on.

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Now the best part of the day: building prototypes. Tables full of building materials are rolled into the main hall. Propellers, little electric motors, knex, carton, duct tape, plastic bottles, wooden wheels, solar panels, batteries. You name it – it is there. Here is where the facilitators’ real job comes in too. At times it is hard to tell who is more into it: the kids or the adult facilitators. After a couple of hours of building (interrupted here and there with a bit of running around), ±15 prototypes are ready.

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16.00 CET Showtime

Whilst some of us quickly clean up the room, Emer and Marieke welcome Amsterdams Elderman for Sustainability, mr. Abdeluheb Choho. The parents, and some of the sponsors join us for the presentations.  Fifteen working prototypes are presented. Flying cars, cars that hover on magnetic levitation, cars that drive on top of each other, helium balloon submarines, an in house farm, a road that doubles as a garbage removal system named the Sliding Street, just to name a few. Who wouldn’t want those things?

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ReInvent your Neighborhood at Makers and Co Festival Amsterdam

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As part of a series of workshops engaging children in the art of social design, we held a session called ‘Reinvent your Neighborhood’ at the Makers & Co Festival in Amsterdam. The aim of Unexpect is to both to teach children new skills as much as to share the amazing inventions and designs children can create.
The 13 children, all of whom are members of the Weekend Academie in Slotervaart, ranged in age from 9 to 12. We kicked off with a creative energzier to get to know each other before introducing the topic of the workshop and getting down to mapping the different groups of people who might live in the neighbourhood including themselves and what their needs might be.

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Mapping people and challenges in the neighbourhood.

The children named challenges such as old ladies with heavy shopping crossing the road slowly, the police who couldn’t catch the robbers due to slow cars, mothers wondering when their children would come home at night and boys who couldn’t play football because there was dog poo on the grass.

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For inspiration we checked out a number of recent inventions such as Google Glass, 3D printers, Sugru (one of my favorites), and Smart Highways from Roosegaarde Studio. Then the children choose one topic to work on and set out to imagine a solution.

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LittleBits

For protoyping we worked with LittleBits, while they are attraction in themselves, they are also quite an effective rapid prototyping tool. Some children preferred to just draw their ideas or work with clay, carton, straws or of course a combination. Thinking with your hands!

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So what did they make?
My two favorite inventions probably would be the sound warning system for the dogs to keep them off the football field, for which the boys also made a prototype (using the littlebits sound senor and noise output). The other invention was for the mother worried about her children out late, through a repurposed phone, they could send coded light signals, red meaning ‘You need to come home now’ and green for ‘I am on my way’.

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Other inventions included a park bench on wheels for the old ladies, an air canon for rubbish and a ‘friend house’ for children with no friends.

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Showing their work

Thanks to Harriet Robijn my co-facilitator, the children of the weekend Academie and Mira de Graaf and Diana Krabbendam our hosts at the Makers & Co Festival.

Check out our Flickr Set of the workshop. http://www.flickr.com/photos/91070382@N02/
Photographs by ACHT film & fotografie

What do children care about?

You’re 10 years old, you live in Dublin, and someone asks you:
What’s the one thing would you like to change in the world?
What do you think the children said, more toys, less school?
Not at all, this is what the children said:

An end to world hunger;  No more air pollution;
World Peace; that no-one has to lose family and friends;
a cure for cancer;  the rainforest to be saved.
No shortage of wild idealism!

Then inspired by a presentation of future technologies (here)
and their own imagination, the children sat down to invent
ways to solve their chosen issue.
With names like ‘The Yom’, ‘Wheels of the Future’ and ‘Beddy Bye’,
here are some of their designs:

EnviroCar-s

A car which breathes in Co2 and exhails oxygen. 

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The YOM, a food and drink maker against world hunger.

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A pen that writes by itself for children with Dyslexia.

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A car which drives on electricity created by the wheels hitting the road. 

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And a solar powered chariot.

Thanks to all the children in 3rd class and 5th class, to Mr. O Sullivan and Ms. Halligan and the principal Mrs. Moore, all at the Harold School in Glasthule in Dublin, for having us. www.theharoldschool.ie

LittleBits @ Maker Faire Amsterdam

LittleBits, the brainchild of Ayah Bdeir, an alumna of the MIT Media Lab, is a library of Electronics dubbed as ‘LEGOs for the iPad generation.’ They are pieces of an electronics  which snap together with magnets to create a working circuit, they have a simple color coding, blue for power, green for output and pink for sensors. You can make all kinds of fun things with them. I had just ordered an extended kit as a prototype tool for the new school I am working on called DNS, when I saw the call to take part in the Amsterdam Maker Festival and thought lets join in. And see what children would want to do with LittleBits.

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They look very friendly.

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Putting together the LittleBits, light, slider, motor.

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Attaching things to the motor to see what happens.

On LittleBits:
It wasn’t really a workshop, we just played together and tried things out, some adults were totally glued as were some children, and kept trying different ways to make things turn bleep and light up.
The LittleBits are easy to work with and everyone young and old found them user friendly, on the down side, they are less adjustable than you would want them to be, as in the motion sensor would need to be in a really quiet room to work, the LED light when connected to a sound sensor mainly responds to high tones and stays on for a couple of seconds before going out and you can’t adjust that.
Another point of concern is the strength of the battery which wore down very quickly and the strength of the fan which wouldn’t really blow a sandwich plastic bag up, maybe only for feathers?

On Amsterdam Maker Festival:
This was a try out version, they put the whole thing together in 5 weeks so fair play. It was held in a perfect location, a former factory in Amsterdam North and there were a number of engaging children’s exhibits to interact with, so excellent for kids. I hope when the full version comes, next May 23rd and 24th, 2014 they will also attract the adult Maker scene for example people like Fred Abels, Plakken en Knippen from the Hague, the Dutch DIY Bio group etc. Looking forward!

See here for the flickr set of photos, from Saturday the 7th of September at Maker Faire Amsterdam

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Can you measure Creativity at Schools and should we try?

Levels of appreciation for creativity and innovation have risen sharply in the last 15 years, largely due to the claimed positive impact it is supposed to have on economic growth.  Yet people have appreciated creativity as an innate (not just functional) quality for a long time, think of Graham Wallas on the Four Stages of Creativity from 1926 or back further Leonardo Da Vinci,
‘The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands.’ –  Leonardo da Vinci

So are the recent calls (US, European, South Korea) for school systems to be measured in an index of creativity likely to be a good thing? presuming we agree that the aim is to enhance and cultivate children’s innate creative beings? And especially given that tests ala the SAT(US) or CITO(NL) or PISA (International) which  measure proficiency in language comprehension, reading, writing and maths are regularly cited as the main obstacle to developing creativity at schools.  And there lies the crux:
How might we measure creativity in a way that is formative?

The state of Massachusetts in the US is exploring the idea, their approach is measure inputs than outputs, that is, to gauge the extent to which schools provide opportunities that will foster creativity and innovation in young people.  Adobe did a large research across educators in the Asia Pacific region and came up with findings presented in this infographic:

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This year the OECD brought out a working paper, ‘Progression in Student Creativity in School: First Steps Towards New Forms of Formative Assessments’ PDF, the say:

Two clear benefits of assessing progress in the development of creativity are identified: 1) teachers are able to be more precise and confident in developing young people’s creativity, and 2) learners are better able to understand what it is to be creative (and to use this understanding to record evidence of their progress). The result would seem to be a greater likelihood that learners can display the full range of their creative dispositions in a wide variety of contexts.

My favorite framework, not because of its comprehensiveness, it’s not, but  for looking at creative thinking is the ‘Torrance Framework of Creative Thinking’, which gives us these characteristics:

  • Fluency. The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.
  • Flexibility. The number of different categories of relevant responses.
  • Originality. The statistical rarity of the responses among the test subjects.
  • Elaboration. The ability to give detail to the ideas generated.

Some of which are definitely measurable. and which I tried to do here. This is a large subject of course and to be continued.