Maker | Disruptive Education
When the Maker movement blows into Taiwan, New Taipei City selected six schools to promote “Maker Education”. Banqiao High School, as the leading education center in Taiwan for life science & technology, naturally become the early selected school, and Yan Wanjun, an Art teacher, was entrusted for implementation of Maker’s education.
When she first faced with 3D printers, laser CNC cutters, and other related cutting-edge machinery appearing in the campus, Yan admitted, “In fact, I had no idea how to operate those!” following is her big laugh. “My original thought is more focused on what students really need as they start to create works. And now with given space and heavy equipment on hand, what kind of possibility the students will grow to？”
There Are No Such Essential Skills for Being “Makers”
In Yan’s class, she never taught so-called “Maker’s must-have skills” like as dwelling such kind of technical aspects, but what she brought into the classroom is more like “issues,” which ranging from the topics such as African bloody cell phone design, the rescuing mission of Russian nuclear disaster or solving African food shortage crisis.
“These are projects what we are current working on.” She finger points those bowling pins on the ground. Yan mentioned with excitement, “We want children to link bowling matches with Taiwan’s endemic endangered species, and everything, from game design mechanism to the manufacture of bowling pins, is all from students’ genuine ideas.”
“Some students paint endangered species on the bowling ball, and related threatening factors such as hunters or rifle on the pins. That represent animals can knock down the all harmful factors. Some students plan to make transparent pins by remolding the shape, then install sensor and LED light inside, so pins that were rolling down could represent the conversation status of the protected animals.”
When talking about how students brain storm their ideas, Yan had smiled on her face. From her description, it can be imaged what would look like in that classroom. When the group started to discuss on a table for how to design bowling pins, several students had jump-started to collect related information about endangered species from Internet; at the same time, on the other end of the classroom, some students were remolding and others were lathing their bowling pins.
How do they develop ideas and turn them into finished products？And what do students exactly need during the process？This is what Yan more concerns about. “Don’t be limited by technology. Creativity should always trace back to your own needs. When you want to implement certain idea, which could be done with 3D printing, you naturally would be eager to learn how to use it. I think this is what effective learning all about.”
Instead of teaching a “3D printing class” or “Arduino learning class”, Yan Wanjun let students try DIY and brainstorm, let students learn how to resolve the problems as they meet one.
Pilgrimaging the Origin of Makers, Practicing the Hands-On and Adventure Spirit
The fact that “Maker culture emphasizes learning-through-doing” highlights the importance of students with actual and hands-on experience. Therefore, when Yan Wanjun and students have a pilgrim trip to San Francisco to participate a Maker Faire, she encouraged them not only to be visitors but also as creators. Yan Wanjun not only leaded her students to Maker Faire, but help students started to build projects such as modification Taiwanese traditional toys in 2016, and a self-made musical keyboad in 2017. As she claims how many projects had been done, she pointed out the work on the table and asked us with smile, “Guess what it is？” It looked like a miniature version of the Taipei 101 building, with several buttons on it. She continually replied, “This is an electronic keyboard with Arduino nano circuit board inside. This is created by a girl who self-learned coding and welding by herself, slowly finishing this self-made instrument.” For Yan Wanjun, there is nothing more to be proud of than witnessing the student’s self-growth.
On this journey abroad, Yan Wanjun and students not only participated in Maker Faire, but also visit Stanford University, Silicon Valley and other places. And all the itinerary and transportation are planned by students. In 2015, they selected the Google headquarters as one must-see place, which made 20 members of the group all jubilant. Even they needed to change to different transport several times on the way, no one complained. Finally arriving at the Google’s front gate, Yan Wanjun announced, “I do not have the pass to get you in Google.” Just as students feel disbelief, she went on to say, “But there is still a way, we may be able to get in. Let’s work together to try it.”
Because Google employees were granted certain visitor quota , they were allowed to bring relatives and friends to visit company. Therefore, Yan Wanjun divided the students into small groups and let them ask help from staff with identification cards, hoping to win an opportunity to visit Google headquarters. Although there was only one group of students finally who succeeded stepping into the headquarters with help from enthusiastic Google employees, thus they fulfilled their dreams. However, more importantly, all have learned the abilities to handle the challenge in this experience. There are still many similar learning missions like this, and the focus is on getting students to “try it in person”, instead of waiting passively for teachers to give them resources or solutions.
“Being a Maker, it is not only to have innovation ideas, but also the spirit to take adventure.” As carrying out each project, you need to be well prepared ahead. Hence “the teacher must have a strong heart！” Yan Wanjun said with self-mocking.
The Most Important Things Are Always Intangible
The spirit of adventurer has long associated with Yan Wanjun. At the beginning of this project, he had known nothing about any machine, but now she could code program with her students as well as do troubleshooting for various mechanical problems. It was her brave heart to keep her going during the past 4 years. During the journey of maker classes with her student, Yang Wanjun often searched & compiled information from foreign makers’ movement websites. When she encountered unfamiliar skills, she would try to self-study, or find someone who can teach her, in the journey to explore and adventure with the students. “In Marker world, failure isn’t something to be shame of.” Yan Wanjun smiled with confidence, even she declared she was exhausted, but not show any tire on her face.
As Maker trend began blowing into the campus, it not only puffed into Yan Wanjun’s “Art and Life” classroom, but also sprang up on other classrooms such as Housework, Mathematics and Earth Science. As Yan Wanjun randomly picked up a mini-globe made by an Earth Science teacher, her other hand pointing at a smartphone stand on the table, stating, “This is the ’golden spiral’ made by a Math teacher.” Abstract concepts in science and mathematics all turned into real objects, which are instrumental in classroom teaching.
“With convenient machine tools available, not only students are more conducive to learning, but teachers have begun to rethink how to develop a brand new teaching aid to replace the traditional aids in used, and uplifting their teaching performance.”
Yan Wanjun has repeatedly stressed that any technology or machine is only a medium. “The really important things are those that can’t be seen by eyes.” In 2016, Yan Wanjun spearheaded effort in leading teachers of various subjects to conduct a year-long topic on the well-known story of“Little Prince”: in English class, they discussed the “Little Prince” text; in Chinese class they wrote poems on relevant subjects. After comprehensive understanding for the story, students planted roses in the class meeting and used PET bottles for the automatic watering system in art class. In extracurricular activities, there were also a “Little Prince Tour Japan” board game created, which combines knowledge in geography and mathematics, plus the neck pillow with fox style equipped with built-in recording device, along with the Little Prince GO kart etc. plans. Within one year, both teachers and students jointly completed countless innovative projects.
As far as Yan Wanjun is concerned, ‘the most important thing’ lies not in the outstanding works, but rather the co-learning journey which subject teachers motivated students how to apply the textbook knowledge in the practical life or objects.
The best practice of the work that Yan Wanjun felt delight and very proud for sharing is a large-scale work composed of colorful lines and iron frames. “In order to present the shape of baobab tree on“Little Prince”, we thought the tree was meant to be a place for getting rest, which led to the design of swivel chair.” Talking about the design seems to be easy, but as turning ideas into real object takes rather technical match-up as well as mathematical theorem. “By using 3D printing we are able to turn the idea into a mold, and then we go to the ironsmith to get the skeleton built with 300 kilograms weight. When we have no idea how to tie those lines onto the frame to be a durable seat, some Math teachers join us in time.”
Yan Wanjun solemnly introduced as shown on the following picture, “This is a live topography for Hyperbolic Function.” The seat construction seems to be very complicated but is just a combination of straight lines. After being rotated, it is interwoven into a sitting area for people to sit or lie down inside. In high school Mathematics class, students all know Hyperbola and its formula but the frequent questions always arise “why do we have to learn this?” and “what can we do with it?” And now this swivel chair has become the most concrete response for their questions.
The teachers and students of Banqiao High School together have ventured to explore Maker’ world. “I feel lucky I am not alone as early implementation of the Makers program.” In school, a group of like-minded teachers formed alliance with Yan Wanjun, brainstorming various fun projects. Outside the school, Banqiao High School is partnership with other schools, thus supporting and sharing related equipment and technology.
Maker education incubates students’ heart with humanity and consideration, making students grew up with compassion as facing people.
Regarding the feedback from her students, Yan Wanjun shared a story, “I once took students to a roadshows, and we let one visitor of our booth experience student-made Go-karts. Suddenly one of them is out of order. A girl, who used to ask for help in class, just stepped out, wrapped her hair and crouched under the car to start repairing right away.”
There were numerous similar stories mentioned above in the class, Yan Wanjun could easily grasp any story to share. “I have never inspected feedbacks from students but I always know they acquire not only the necessary skills, but the positive attitude toward their future.”
Yan Wanjun’s philosophy for education not only cultivates students to think, but also foster hand-made capacity for problems resolving. Ultimate consideration is the core what Ms. Yan tries to bring to those youths. “What the Maker sprit brought to those students should more focus on human being rather than the machine. We ought to have more humanity and compassion.” Yan Wanjun said: “Our goal is to turn youth to be more compassion to others.” The hurdle for learning professional maker skills is not hard to overcome, and Yan Wanjun expects, while acquiring professional skills, students should pay more attention on others, the environment, and even the world.