Design Innovation holiday camp at The Keys Academy

During the recent March holidays, Sean attended a very interesting holiday camp called Design Innovation at The Keys Academy.

If you didn’t know already, one of the founders of this newly opened enrichment centre is Amy Chua, the original ‘Tiger Mum’ who believes that children can and should be stretched to their full potential. (Her book The Battle Hymn of Tiger Mum is a must-read for Asian parents – I really enjoyed it!)

The 5-days Design Innovation camp was held at The Keys Academy in partnership with Codomo. Targeted at children aged 6 to 8 years old, the camp places a strong emphasis on developing a child’s creativity through fun yet challenging hands-on activities which introduces the child to core design thinking methodologies such as ideation, problem definition, empathy and prototyping.

It aims to let children build their creative confidence by prototyping solutions in building and programming robots, microcontrollers and smart-phone applications.

The course outline was unlike anything we had seen before so I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect!

The camp turned out to be really fun and engaging – and perfectly suited for our geeky little inventor-wannabe Sean!

Every morning, the class would start with ‘The Design Breakfast Challenge’ which would keep them busy for the most part of the morning. Then after lunch, they would do something more open-ended like designing something for underprivileged students in lesser developed countries and then move on to building and testing out their ideas with the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Robots prototypes. Very cool!

Through these activities, the children learnt the significance of design in our everyday lives and the fact that design and engineering together can lead to the development of futuristic solutions which can significantly change people’s lives for the better.

Here’s what the children got up to for the 5 days:

Day 1 (morning) – The Spaghetti Challenge

Using only spaghetti and masking tape, the children were challenged to build the tallest free-standing tower that was required to support a piece of marshmallow on top.

This challenge taught the children how best to maximize stability in any structure (i.e. sturdy, broad base, light load, etc).

Apparently, Sean’s spaghetti tower was the most stable and it could even withstand an earthquake (simulated by a shaking table, haha). He was super proud!

Day 1 (afternoon) – The Magic School Bus

After lunch, the children were guided through a brainstorming session on what life was like for the less privileged in poorer countries.

They were then tasked to design a ‘Magic School Bus’ which would go to the villages to pick up the underprivileged children and bring them to school.

Sean sketched a ‘submarine bus’ for the children who lived by the river: ‘It has the face of a lion to scare away the fish, a periscope, a surfboard that flips up, a door that opens automatically and has an automated arm to pick the children up’.

Then the children built their bus prototypes with LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Robots. The children were taught how to do simple programming on the computer to maneuvre their LEGO bus to and from checkpoints. Super fun!

Day 2 (morning) – The Three Billy Goats’ Bridge

On the second day, the children learnt that the strongest bridges in the world all have triangles in their structures. I never even knew that myself!

Applying what they had learnt about triangles, the children worked in pairs to build the strongest bridge using tape, rubberbands and icecream sticks in order to take the three billy goats (represented by a 1.5L filled bottle) across the creek.

I was very impressed with the fairly complicated yet sturdy bridge structure that Sean and his friend had built!

Day 2 (afternoon) – Farmer’s Best Friend

The children were challenged to help their friend Tumanka program an automated feeding device to deliver food to the farm animals’ cages at regular intervals.

Sean had this to say: “My robot can go forwards and backwards and drop the marbles (food) off for the chicks!”

Day 3 (morning) – Designing an everyday object for a friend

The children worked in pairs to redesign and prototype everyday objects – either a water bottle, pencil case or school bag – for each other.

As they were designing for their friend, and not themselves, they had to make sure the end product had to look like something their friend wanted.

Sean designed a school bag – or more specifically, a ‘gold colour water proof raining jet pack’ – for his friend HR. He sketched his many ideas (how cute are his drawings?) and made a prototype using paper and mini paper clips. HR also gave him feedback on his design – ‘Just ok. Make it much cooler!’ and gave him pointers on how to improve it.

Day 3 (afternoon) – Visit to IDA’s National Design Centre lab facility

After lunch, the children went for a field trip to visit the lab and got to experience the fabrication space up close and personal. Sean said he saw very cool ‘cutting machines’ and has been asking me to bring him back to the National Design Centre. I haven’t been there yet – I really should plan a trip down!

Day 4 (morning) – The World’s Greatest Paperplane

By altering different factors like wingspan, stabilisers (paper clips) and carrying out test flights, weight positioning and nose length, the kids determined which paper plane design could yield optimum results.

What they learnt from this activity was that there is no such thing as a best design. There are good designs for each situation. If a design is good for one situation, it does not mean it will be the best choice in all situations.

A seemingly simple activity but a great learning experience for all!

Day 4 (afternoon) – Designing a cable car for school

The children were challenged to design and build a cable car which would take the students from the village to school at the top of the mountains.

That afternoon, they also had a meet-up session with James a local start-up whiz who brought them through the process of coming up with cool smart phone apps. Right up the kids’ alley, I’m sure!

Day 5 – The Amusement Park

The children were tasked to design and build an amusement park ride for their lesser privileged friends.

I was blown away by all the rides the children came up with. There were rollercoasters, merry-go-rounds, crazy spinning things. The safety factor definitely needs looking into (haha) but all of them actually work!

Sean built and programmed what he called a ‘Rocket-Go-Round’ which consisted of a merry-go-round and 360-degrees Viking ship ride (horrors!). I was told they were taught how to design their ride around a simple functional part of the LEGO Mindstorm Robot (like a spinning/rotating part) and build from there.

Check out Sean’s Rocket-Go-Round:

That was the final day of the camp so we were invited to their class for a presentation of what they had been working on all week. The children did great – so proud of all of them!

Overall, the camp was nothing short of AMAZING. Sean loved his facilitators and thoroughly enjoyed his time at the camp.

The daily hands-on activities were very well-planned and executed, and they definitely kept the children motivated and interested throughout the five days. I really do think children are more receptive to learning and coming up with new ideas when they are allowed to explore, move around and try things out themselves.

Even at their young age, the children were taught how to do mind maps, come up with storyboards, brainstorm for ideas, work in teams and present their ideas in front of class. No doubt these are useful skills they would carry throughout their lives.

Besides the cool design/engineering aspects, I was pleasantly surprised that so much emphasis was placed on building empathy in the children, which is so unexpected and unusual for such a camp! The designs/prototypes they came up with were always aimed at helping others and making their lives easier/better.

Big thumbs up for the team at The Keys Academy! Their June-July summer holidays schedule is out – I highly recommend them!

Disclaimer: Sean was invited to attend the Design Innovation class. No monetary compensation was received. The pleasure was all ours, and all opinions are our own.