"Drop by drop, or pouring it all out: What’s the better approach?" #77

As part of Fab Lab Barcelona’s contribution, we implemented two pilots in the second year of the DOIT project. We used two distinct approaches in the implementation: Weekly sessions of one or two hours, or one several days long session to go from start to finish.

We worked with a total of 60 middle school children aged 10 to 14 in Mataró and Badalona, two neighbors of Barcelona. With students from Mataró we held a 2.5 day-long session in the Green Lab in Valldaura, located in the middle of the Collserola National Park, and with Badalona we incorporated the weekly sessions into an elective entrepreneurship class offered by the school we worked with.

With our long session pilot, we worked on creating a self-sufficient habitat and designing a Smart Garden together with students from the Escola GEM in Valldaura. The students attended presentations on what technology we had available, experimented with various materials and resources, and designed a prototype that they later presented.

The weekly sessions were held from October to January. There were definitely advantages to seeing the same children week after week, but this approach did also have its challenges. Time management becomes crucial, as does an ability to create interest before anybody can really see where the journey will take them.

At first there were some participants with less than enthusiastic attitudes, probably because all the things that excite so many of us about digital fabrication are quite abstract, but everything changed when the class visited Fab Lab Barcelona and saw for themselves some examples of what they could do. It just goes to show, you could have the most fascinating space, but something still has to click to turn “OK fine, more homework…” into “Wow, I can actually do some things here!”

Luckily, these bits and atoms did click and the students were divided into groups, each tackling a different task. They proposed an issue, carried out interviews and tests to see if it actually was an issue, decided on how to approach the issue and then to develop a solution.

 One of the

 groups chose to work on a homework-meter after interviewing the rest of the school. The physical prototype they developed visualizes the amount of homework assigned in each class, and has feedback mechanisms for when it gets too much. There were a lot of motors and sensors involved in this beautiful machine.

Another group thought there were too many birds on the rooftop garden the students use during recess. The birds made it unsafe for them to play as they liked, and nobody was happy about it. After thinking long and hard to find a solution that doesn’t harm the birds, they came up with a tech-y scarecrow that uses a combination of active and passive non-invasive techniques used to keep birds away, like noise, movement and reflective materials.

There was one group who used a prized project developed in Fab Lab Barcelona. Some classrooms in the school were always too noisy, because the school itself is close to a noisy street. Using the Smart Citizen kit, they recorded and visualized the noise levels and presented their findings to the City Council, who later decided to replace buses that pass near the school with electric buses, which helped keep the noise levels down. Talk about civic engagement and affecting change!

Both pilots had a lot to teach us. We are maybe slightly more partial to the shorter engagement over a longer period, but there are definitely advantages to a longer single session. Starting in September there will be more pilots happening in Fab Lab Barcelona, using new approaches, and we hope they will be as successful as the first two!