Chance Favors a Prepared Mind

Chance Favors a Prepared Mind


RBC chemistry teacher, Shawn Holt, in partnership with his mechanical engineer neighbor had a bright idea, kept fiddling with it, pitched it to a few investors, and voila – It’s off to the races.

Like most great ideas, it started out kind of messy and ill-defined. They had this goo that hardened on impact but regained its flexibility after the shock. When they considered infusing athletic tape with their magic sauce, they found their “A ha” moment. They got a patent, an investor and now a product – Impax brand of impact-resistant athletic tape. The product lifecycle begins anew.

The best inventions move the needle, like the best works of art – we are changed by them. We grow as a species, we evolve because of them. Not only can we think differently post epiphany, we can do differently.

Another recent example of a new way to treat an old problem is this amazing (re)design of the plaster cast. In its concept phase but certain to gain traction is this 3D-printed cast by Victoria University of Wellington graduate Jake Evill. An elegant solution for broken bones, this model replaces the usual bulky, itchy and smelly plaster or fiberglass solution that I’ve had to wear more than once!

According to an article in de zeen magazine, “The prototype Cortex cast is lightweight, ventilated, washable and thin enough to fit under a shirt sleeve. A patient would have the bones x-rayed and the outside of the limb 3D-scanned. Computer software would then determine the optimum bespoke shape, with denser support focused around the fracture itself.

The polyamide pieces would be printed on-site and clip into place with fastenings that can’t be undone until the healing process is complete, when they would be taken off with tools at the hospital as normal. Unlike current casts, the materials could then be recycled.”

If there were a Kickstarter for this idea, I’d pledge.

What other great ideas are out there and how do we find them, fund them, and inspire more of them? How can we inject this kind of entrepreneurial spirit into and onto our campus more at Richard Bland College? In what ways can we promote this type of inventive, collaborative, experimental thinking in our students, our assignments, and our learning outcomes? How can we use this model to ramp up the next Student Expo?

Some universities are already putting policies into place that will make their institutions more open to supporting and nurturing this type of collaborative entrepreneurial inventiveness. The University of Virginia’s School of Medicine was one of the first programs in the United States to incorporate entrepreneurial activities in its promotion and tenure criteria for faculty in the same manner in which technology startups reward employees for innovating new projects, products, and ideas.

We need to be creative about the schooling of business and the business of schooling to teach real world skills to solve real world problems. Whether those problems are personal – how do I pay my rent, build a company, or write a modern play? Or, humanitarian – can we replicate photosynthesis and save the planet? As usual, we need a hybrid approach fusing the 3R’s with the 4C’s. Reading, writing, and ‘rythmatic, meet critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Letting Your Geek Flag Fly – The Creative Classroom is a Maker’s Space

Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Letting Your Geek Flag Fly – The Creative Classroom is a Maker’s Space

As a maker, I am very excited to see so much attention being given to active learning. Creativity is a buzz word and appears in tandem with concepts that only a decade ago might have seemed counter intuitive – leadership, science, math, technology, and industry, to name a few. Of course, all fields are creative at their cusp – the freedom and disciplined inquiry of the creative process is the spark that allows for innovation and adaptation. Recognizing that creativity can foster growth in more things than art class is a major turning point for education and a great argument for supporting it throughout the curriculum.

There is tremendous energy around a mixed-use creativity model brought to us by the “Maker Movement”, representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker subculture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts. 

There is a growing trend on university campuses in which students are doing more content creation and design, across the spectrum of disciplines. More colleges, universities, and libraries are developing environments and facilitating opportunities to harness this creativity by building physical spaces where students can learn and create together, integrating content- and product centered activities as part of their instruction.

Learners in this environment are actively involved in project-based learning, problem solving, learning from failure, critical thinking, experiential learning, collaborative learning, inquiry-based learning, participatory learning, open educational resources, and more. To support and nurture these collaborative and interdisciplinary ecosystems, communities around the country are creating Maker Spaces.

Maker Spaces offer the tools and learning experiences needed to help people carry out their ideas. These best of these spaces support spontaneity, are perceived as low-risk and non-judgmental, have flexible boundaries to allow coming and going, support, reward, or foster collaborative activity, nurture self-directed, interest-driven activity, display relevant artifacts and provide performance platforms, create easy-access mechanisms for tinkering and making and doing, take advantage of natural draws, like technology that youth want to use, and incorporate mentoring from adults with the expertise to provide encouragement and feedback.

Learning- 21st century style is about tinkering and the prototype has become emblematic of the learning process itself. Often referred to as artifacts, these quick renditions can also serve as an opportunity for a deeper dive. We can prototype in many forms – we can make code, games, movies, music, objects, photos, stories, books, animations, and simulations with simple tools. Many of these tools are free and on-line or can easily be found at the neighborhood thrift store.

To supplement maker spaces for deeper dives, organizations are providing laptops, gaming consoles, recording equipment, video and traditional cameras, drawing pads, and more. At their best, these spaces foster hands-on participation, collaboration, and expanded interest in tools and techniques. A host of free apps is available that are perfectly suited to jump start a new generation of students, teachers, hackers, performers, engineers, and designers here.

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) published a study recently about the The Future of Making. It identified six drivers of change that foster the Maker Movement (social networking, eco-motivation, the rise of the professional amateurs, access to tools, open-source everything and a quest of authenticity) and six trends that will change how we design and produce things (desktop manufacturing, lightweight manufacturing, citizen R&D, networked artisans, grassroots economics and open innovation).

Today’s DIY or Maker Movement emphasizes customization over craft and is often identified as the “cult of the amateur” – allowing everyone a chance to engage in creating content, objects, and ideas. This shifts a new generation from consumers to producers and developers. Open source everything opens the door for newcomers and developers to evolve with the new technologies and modify existing systems. Rapid prototyping and small-scale production runs will become the norm, allowing us to re-imagine the objects we own. We can see our stuff as raw material for reuse or re-purpose and move from repair to replace. 

There is a very inspirational video here about a girl who grew up on a farm where she was taught to fix things when they broke because that was her only option – she brings this creativity and practicality to a modern world with an innovative that allows people to modify, repair, or build their own solutions. Watch Inventor Jane ni Dhulchaointigh‘s story and learn about the process of taking her idea to market. It really makes me believe that anything is possible and entrepreneurship can be part of everyone’s business plan.

Richard Bland College has a new Center for Strategic Initiatives and part of that strategy will include some form of Maker Space!