Becoming a Maker in Innovation Lab @Ross

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The space that hosts Innovation Lab @Ross is filled with movement: some students are huddled at tables sketching on large poster boards; another is cutting out pieces from a large sheath of corrugated cardboard. On a large screen, a video of a robot moving through a maze plays silently. The students are deeply engaged in a collaborative design challenge. In groups of four, they are designing and building obstacle courses that they will program Makeblock mBots—robots equipped with line-following and ultrasonic sensors—to navigate.

This project is one of several design activities that students in the Innovation Lab course will complete during the six-week program. These assignments are meant to expose students to new and emerging technologies and to teach them creative problem-solving skills. During the first half of their day, students work on activities like the Marshmallow Challenge (building tall towers out of marshmallows and raw spaghetti) or 20 Circles, a test in which students are given a defined timeframe to fill in 20 blank circles any way they choose. Such activities help students to discern and overcome self-imposed creative barriers.

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The bulk of students’ time, however, is spent working with different technologies. So far, they’ve designed virtual reality experiences, practiced 3D modeling, and learned to program robots with Arduinos. Before the session’s end, they will also explore artificial intelligence and web design. Students spend their afternoon specializing in a preferred technology, exploring it further through an independent project. One student is currently learning a computer programming language with the intention of developing a video game, and another is building a board game, complete with 3D-printed game pieces.

“Students are often afraid of being wrong, and it takes them some time to adjust to an environment where there is no right answer and they are expected to just explore,” says Innovation Lab @Ross Director Dr. Greg Wilson. “Innovation Lab is an educational playground.”