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Maker Challenge - A Facilitator's Perspective: Highlights of Day 4 at Sunnyside's Young Explorers Weekend Workshops

The last edition of our Young Explorer's Weekend Workshop (YEWW) featured the highly anticipated Maker Challenge, which drew a larger number of participants than ever before. This challenge, a staple of our workshop series, tasks young explorers with building objects within defined constraints from everyday materials using the Engineering Design Cycle. While the primary goal is to test their creativity and problem-solving skills, the challenge also allows them to experience scientific phenomena in a practical, hands-on manner.

The challenge kicked off with an icebreaker game to introduce the participants to their teams. A presentation on the Engineering Design Cycle followed, helping participants understand the stages involved in a design cycle, from planning to construction.

The series comprised of 20 participants, divided into five teams of four. Two teams, consisting of explorers above 10 years old, were tasked with building a robotic arm using everyday materials. The remaining three teams, comprising explorers under 10, were challenged to build a parachute that glides slowly, a tall tower capable of holding a ping pong ball on top, and a canoe that can float for three minutes. Each team was mentored by a high school learner from Sunnyside.

The teams began by planning and designing their models before acquiring the necessary materials. The 'Canoe' team successfully completed their design and started building ahead of schedule. The 'Tall Tower' team faced challenges in construction, leading them to revise their plan and rebuild the tower entirely. The 'Parachute' team struggled initially but eventually developed a working prototype. The two 'Robotic Arm' teams had started constructing their prototypes after finalizing their plans.

The Maker Challenge reinforced the idea that "Failures are stepping stones for success." While only the 'Canoe' team successfully built a model that passed the test, the 'Tall Tower' team's last-minute solution with minimalistic features was commendable. The 'Parachute' team's perseverance led to a working prototype, while the 'Robotic Arm' teams made significant progress, despite not completing their models.

This workshop was particularly memorable for us as facilitators, as it provided profound insights into the learning process, not just for the children but also for ourselves. We often enter these maker series with certain expectations, hoping to see textbook-like models being built. However, more often than not, the outcomes surprise us, prompting us to reconsider our approach. One key realisation from this workshop was the importance of encouraging children to think creatively rather than aiming for a specific end product. Working with children of various age groups reinforced the understanding that fostering creativity is paramount, and the output may not always align with our initial visions.

A significant aspect of this workshop was the involvement of our older students as team mentors for the younger participants. This peer learning experience was invaluable, not only for the younger children but also for the mentors themselves. It was heartening to see how the older kids embraced their roles, offering guidance and support to their younger peers.

The Maker Challenge culminated in a series of innovative prototypes, each reflecting the unique approach and creativity of its creators. While not every team achieved the desired outcome, the process itself was enriching. As facilitators, we witnessed firsthand how failures can be stepping stones to success, and how perseverance and effort are integral to the learning journey.

In conclusion, the Makers Challenge at YEWW was not just a workshop; it was a journey of discovery and growth for both the children and the facilitators. It underscored the importance of embracing the process, celebrating creativity, and nurturing a mindset of continuous learning and exploration. We look forward to many more such enriching experiences in the future!

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