The cre­ative mak­ing of maker ed­u­ca­tion

With IT de­vices, stu­dents re­al­ize their cre­ative po­ten­tial, writes Guo Ying from China Fea­tures

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS -

In a class­room of the ele­men­tary school af­fil­i­ated to Ren­min Uni­ver­sity of China, 11-year old Yao Bo­han swings from left to right be­fore a com­puter screen, shout­ing oc­ca­sion­ally. The char­ac­ter on the screen fol­lows his move­ments and jumps high to eat a fruit every time he shouts.

This is a mo­tion sens­ing game and Yao is the de­signer.

Us­ing what he learned in the school’s in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy course, Yao made the game with S4A soft­ware, Ar­duino mi­cro­con­trollers and in­frared and sound sen­sors.

Al­though the low-cost game can­not com­pare with so­phis­ti­cated, branded mo­tion­con­trol de­vices, it still gives Yao a sense of achieve­ment.

The 40-square-me­ter class­room is filled with cre­ativ­ity: art works made from cop­per foil tape, LEDsand but­ton bat­ter­ies; a ro­botic car that can be re­mote con­trolled through Blue­tooth.

Yao’s teacher Zhao Yu uses project-based learn­ing to en­cour­age his stu­dents to make their own open-ended cre­ations, based on their per­sonal in­ter­ests. Their wild imag­i­na­tion and un­re­strained cre­ativ­ity left him as­tounded.

“In the IT course, pre­vi­ously we used to fo­cus on soft­ware knowl­edge that is solely used on com­put­ers, but now we of­ten com­bine hard­ware and re­late it to daily life, so when pro­gram­ming is used for real-world projects, pri­mary school stu­dents don’t’ find it bor­ing,” Zhao says.

He and his stu­dents show­cased their DIYprod­ucts at a booth at the Maker Faire Bei­jing in Au­gust, be­com­ing part of China’s dy­namic maker move­ment.

The maker move­ment— a term for grass­roots cre­ativ­ity — is viewed as a fu­ture en­gine for China’s eco­nomic growth. China is pur­su­ing an in­no­va­tion-driven de­vel­op­ment strat­egy and us­ing the maker move­ment’s po­ten­tial for en­trepreneur­ship and in­no­va­tion.

Zhao thinks the move­ment has in­stilled in teach­ers the de­sire to in­clude the maker spirit in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

In re­cent years, pioneer­ing schools in cities such as Bei­jing, Shen­zhen, Wen­zhou and Ningbo have ex­plored ways to in­tro­duce the maker spirit to schools by launch­ing ex­per­i­men­tal pro­grams that em­pha­size fab­ri­ca­tion, in­ven­tion and cre­ativ­ity. Maker spa­ces, maker car­ni­vals and stu­dent in­no­va­tion con­tests in schools have gained pop­u­lar­ity.

TheMin­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion is­sued a guide­line in 2015on­ex­plor­ing­maker ed­u­ca­tion to cul­ti­vate IT aware­ness and in­no­va­tion abil­ity among stu­dents.

Li Yifei, deputy di­rec­tor of the Science Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Ed­u­ca­tion Re­search Cen­ter at Bei­jing Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity, says that for years, Chi­nese stu­dents were sub­ject to rote learn­ing and test-ori­ented ed­u­ca­tion that sup­pressed their nat­u­ral ten­den­cies to in­no­vate, ex­per­i­ment and cre­ate.

“The grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of maker ed­u­ca­tion shows that some schools and teach­ers have rec­og­nized the im­por­tance of en­cour­ag­ing cre­ativ­ity. The in­tro­duc­tion of maker ed­u­ca­tion to schools might be a break­through for China’s ed­u­ca­tion re­form,” Li says.

But pro­mot­ing maker ed­u­ca­tion is no easy task, he cau­tions. Most Chi­nese teach­ers are ac­cus­tomed to the es­tab­lished cur­ricu­lum and di­rect in­struc­tion, so they need to ex­plore how to im­ple­ment project-based teach­ing and en­gage with stu­dents.

Wu Jun­jie, of Bei­jing Jing­shan School, was one of the first Chi­nese teach­ers to in­tro­duce maker ed­u­ca­tion to a school. The wide­spread use of open-source hard­ware and high-tech tools such as 3D print­ers of­fers tech­nol­ogy sup­port to maker ed­u­ca­tion, he says. He and other IT teach­ers have watched re­cent de­vel­op­ments and up­dated their cour­ses. In 2015, they in­tro­duced a course on S4A soft­ware, and this year, 3D print­ing.

“The ul­ti­mate goal of th­ese cour­ses is to equip stu­dents with ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy tools to make their own unique cre­ations. Learn­ing is sup­posed to hap­pen as part of stu­dents’ ex­pe­ri­ence as they tackle hand­son projects,” Wu says.

Zhu Zhong­wen, one of Wu’s stu­dents, shows great po­ten­tial. He be­gan to write soft­ware when he was 9 and touched on in­tel­li­gent hard­ware when he was 12. When he was 14, he be­came the youngest con­tes­tant in China’s Hackathon and put for­ward a con­cept prod­uct called “Dream Swim­mer” that can con­trol the dream­ing process.

“I be­lieveChi­nese stu­dents are no less cre­ative than their coun­ter­parts in other coun­tries. With maker ed­u­ca­tion, I hope more cre­ative minds like Zhu will emerge and con­tinue to de­velop,” says Wu, adding that fam­ily and so­cial en­vi­ron­ment also play vi­tal roles in nour­ish­ing the maker spirit.

Jia Sifei at­tends an in­ter­na­tional school in Bei­jing, and Elon Musk, a typ­i­cal in­car­na­tion of the maker spirit, is his idol. Ac­cord­ing to Jia’s mother, he has been ob­sessed with mak­ing things with all kinds of ma­te­ri­als since the age of 3. When he was 6, he de­vel­oped a strong in­ter­est in open-ended tools such as Ar­duino mi­cro­con­trollers and be­gan to build his own in­ter­ac­tive hard­ware.

“I’m happy to see him fully ab­sorbed in hard­ware like an en­gi­neer and mak­ing some­thing he is re­ally proud of,” she says. “I think chil­dren’s pas­sion to cre­ate needs to be pro­tected and en­cour­aged.”

The Young Maker In­sti­tu­tion is an ex­tracur­ric­u­lar train­ing agency that fo­cuses on maker ed­u­ca­tion and pro­vides pro­ject­based teach­ing for stu­dents aged 9 to 14. Co-founderMa Qingyang be­lieves there is a grow­ing mar­ket for­maker ed­u­ca­tion in­China.

“Al­though China is to, some ex­tent, an exam-ori­ented coun­try, the gaokao (na­tional col­lege en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion) is no longer the only path to suc­cess,” Ma says. “The pop­u­lar­ity of study­ing over­seas and the emer­gence of star­tups of­fer more pos­si­bil­i­ties to China’s youth. Stu­dents and par­ents are start­ing to pay more at­ten­tion to in­de­pen­dent think­ing and cre­ativ­ity, which counts for a lot in their fu­ture de­vel­op­ment.”


Chil­dren con­trol ro­bot table soc­cer play­ers at a com­pe­ti­tion dur­ing a ro­bot car­ni­val and sum­mer youth camp in Kun­ming, cap­i­tal of South­west China’s Yun­nan Prov­ince, on July 15. More than 50 ro­bots fea­tured in ed­u­ca­tion, en­ter­tain­ment, ser­vice and in­dus­try were on dis­play at the camp


Stu­dents op­er­ate a 3D printer at the 3D LAB at Bei­jing No. 2 Mid­dle School Yizhuang branch, in the cap­i­tal on June 16, 2014.

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