Project Update from Make: Learning Labs

Education Maker News
Project Update from Make: Learning Labs

“Innovation is not only about finding a way to use pre-existing theory or solutions into a new problem, it’s also multidisciplinary, has to be practical and it’s not something that people just do on their own”

Brian, US 

“Before, I thought projects are just for school or work. Now I have a list of projects I want to do. I want to create something that can measure the water flow at home. We have problems with water and I want to try to know when water is going to be scarce in advance so we can be prepared for it.”

Saul, Mexico 

“This program has helped me to discover what I want. I think it’ll be great for people that are taking a gap year, like me.”

Kate, US

“Now when I see problems I want to solve them in the way we did it here. I love technology but I also want to know more about the experience of the people with the problem.”

Yolotzin, Mexico
Learning Lab session

How can we support young people solving meaningful problems, problems that they care about? I believe it’s by helping them discover their own voice, by giving them the freedom to try their ideas and get feedback from the community.  That’s the thinking behind Make: Learning Labs, a new program from adult learners.

In this pilot four-month program, we have fourteen participants ranging in age from 17-24 and  from the US and Mexico.  In the first two weeks of the explore different technologies, and create playful projects working as a remote team. Participants listened to speakers from diverse backgrounds, and had weekly meetings with their mentors (link to mentor page). 

Here are the students in this session of Make: Learning Labs.

  • Elizabeth Swartz, Mountain View, California
  • Regina Alatorre, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Marshall Piros, Monterey, California
  • Jannet Galván, Mexico City, Mexico
  • Brian Mustafa, Rockville, Maryland
  • Rodrigo Moreno Oaxaca, Mexico City, Mexico
  • Kate Southern, Springville, Utah
  • Mia Farraday. Mount Prospect, Illinois
  • Yolotzin Oreday Osorio Morales, Oaxaca, Mexico
  • Dafne Isadora Cruz Medina, Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico
  • Saul Najera Aguirre, Mexico City, Mexico
  • Gabriela López Arredondo, Mexicali, Baja California, México 
  • Lily Clarke, Missoula, Montana
  • Ferren Kosciolek, Blairstown, New Jersey

In the course of the three following weeks participants gather in groups and work on researching a real-world problem they care about. They interviewed people that were impacted by that problem, investigated why market solutions for that problem have failed, and brainstormed other possible solutions. Every team developed their own point of view about the problem, they ideated over a possible solution, and made a prototype.

Four Student Projects with Protoypes

Below are brief summaries of the first student projects and their prototypes. The students documented each project on (links below).

1. An attachable cuff to control sleeves of man-sized lab coats

This group was interested in gender difference in clothing and through interviews decided to focus on STEM workers. They interviewed women who said that the lab coats they wore were designed for men and didn’t fit them well. Their prototype solution was an attachable cuff that could be used to roll up sleeves.

Project: Women’s Attire in the Workplace

A prototype of the strap

2. Wifi Availability for Students

This group was concerned about students who lacked access to Wi-Fi during the pandemic. One example was two students sitting on the ground outside a Taco Bell to use its Wi-Fi for school work.

Solving for Wi-Fi is a big project, which has a lot to do with private versus public infrastructure. This group thought that it could provide a service by building a website to help a person report Wi-Fi problems and recommend potential solutions.

Project: Access for all: Wifi Availability

A web page for the survey

3. Helping Students Cope with Social Media Negativity

This group recognized that social media is causing stress among students, often fostering negatives images of themselves. They wanted to counter the messages found on social media through positive messaging. They called their effort – The LoveUrself Project. They designed a prototype of a connected mirror that could be installed in a school. As a students looks in the mirror, a positive message would scroll across the screen.

Project: Effects of Social Media on Students

LoveUrself Project Mirror

4. Using PH Testing For Drinking Water

This group was concerned about parts of the world, particularly in areas around Mexico City, where finding safe, clean drinking water is a problem. People may not know if there tap water is safe to drink and so they rely on bottled water, which is another environmental problem. This project prototypes a system for testing PH in drinking water.

Project: Availability of clean drinking water

Screen readout of PH test

Like students everywhere during the pandemic, these students were working remotely on teams, which presented challenges especially for creating physical prototypes. Nonetheless, they completed this assignment and they’ve done a good job of learning a new process to follow and working as a team.Mentors played an important role in helping students develop their projects.

The students presented their projects to the entire group, which also included mentors and other invited participants. The video below, which starts a few minutes into the first presentation, is recorded from the group Zoom session.

YouTube player

For most participants, this is their first prototype, and for all, this is their first experience doing a team project that focuses on a real-world problem of their choice. It’s just been five weeks and we love what they have done, and how much they learned. This is just 30% of the way through the program. We can’t wait to see what they are going to be doing next. 

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty
Nancy Otero

Nancy Otero is a laser cutter and AI fan. Her biggest passion is human learning, she has spend the last ten years working with educational organizations designing environments that mix technology with project-based learning. Nancy was the Founding Director of Learning Design at Portfolio School, a project-based learning school in NYC. Students from this program are the youngest presenters -6, 8, and 9 years old- at Stanford's conference FabLearn. She was the Director of Professional Development at the Beam Center in NYC, where she created a program that served more than one hundred teachers and thousands of students. She co-founded FAB! a non-profit in Mexico that work with underserved communities for 5 years. Nancy was a OpenAI fellow, and a software engineer in her previous life. She has a Master in Learning, Design and Technology from Stanford University.

View more articles by Nancy Otero


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