For our first full semester project in China we chose to make a controller. We came to HSANNU, a very prestigious high school, ranked 4th in China in Gau Kau scores and wanted to teach a class that would incorporate all the steps of making a smart object: programing, electronics, rapid prototyping and product design. We chose the controller because we wanted the students to relate to the subject and figured who doesn’t enjoy a video games so it would be fun for them to make.
Our objective in this project was to teach high school students how to create their own smart object from start to finish while using programing, design thinking, CAD tools and digital fabrication machines like a 3d printer and a laser cutter as well as develop their curiosity and understanding of the way things are made today.
The assignment given to the students was:
1. Create a video game using Scratch, the game can be for 1-2 players and should have a clear goal, a score board and win/loose indicator.
2. Make a specialized controller for your game using rapid prototyping and other tools such as laser cutter and 3d printer. Materials available are plywood, Plexiglass, felt, 5cm polyurethane sponge and cardboard.
3. Program an Arduino Single Board MicroController and use different sensors to control your game, think outside the box when it comes to input/output possibilities.
The term started with big promise. We were new to China and the school and we were embraced by our new peers and students. The lab we designed was amazing and we had our perfect playground. We were excited and extremely motivated to teach the Chinese students at HSANNU.
The semester started with a short name tag exercise, which the student made using the laser cutter and some LED's connected to batteries. It was a nice way to get to know everyone's name let them have a taste of the capabilities of the lab. In our second lesson we stared programming with Scratch. A few of the students were experienced programmers but most had taken their first programming steps with us. It was amazing to see how much they enjoyed small achievements, and how creative they can be if given the opportunity.
After they were finished with their games in Scratch we continued with a tangible exercise. We wanted the students to get excited and experience some creative freedom. To get started we had a short "Mockup Marathon" and they had a few hours to make their first prototype using whichever materials and tools they wanted. One of the most used tools in our lab is the laser cutter so we decided to teach them the Inkscape graphics software, since it's a free program they can use it both in our class and at home. What we later came to know is that most of them don't have computers at home.
Up to this point everything ran pretty smoothly with only minor adjustments to our teaching schedule, but things didn't run as well in the second half of the term.
We later found out that we won't be able to keep up with our schedule because the elective classes stop after 8 weeks to allow the students focus on their tests. Surprised, we quickly adjusted so that we would make the best we could with what we had. Some students got to finish their project, most, however, did not.
I think my biggest lesson coming out of that semester was that I would be more flexible with the classes and to always ask for every detail, no matter how small, when it comes to teaching in a foreign education system.
My biggest accomplishment in the semester was the completed projects of the students. They continued coming to the lab even after the school year was officially over, knowing they will not get a grade in our course due to school administration decisions. That proved to me they were truly learning and enjoying themselves satisfied with their and the work they've done. The lab was working it's magic on them - they were hooked!