Guevara meets the MakerClub

Local insurance company interviews MakerClub, a digital education company.

Written by Rob Mccorquodale, Guevara (heyguevara.com)

It’s lunchtime at Silo and the going is typically delicious. I’ve gone for the beef and it’s melt in the mouth, inappropriate noises levels of tasty. The food, however, isn’t the most exciting thing on the table. It takes something special to distract me from a good plate of food, but I’m having lunch with MakerClub, and they’ve brought a 3D printed robot for us to play with. The inappropriate noises will have to wait.

Having set up in Brighton, we’ve been out meeting the innovative communities from around the city, listening to their stories and celebrating what makes them special. We caught up with Simon, Declan and Morwenna of MakerClub, part of the Brighton Makers, to hear about building robots, coding, and making learning fun.

“We give kids the basics then let them loose,” explains Simon, MakerClub’s founder and CEO. “We give them some components and ask them ‘what robot can you build with this?’ They get to work and put something together, then we say ‘now if you added a motor, what could it do then? What would you use it for?’ We want to make it exciting first, then kids can see why the more academic stuff is really worthwhile.”

I’m already regretting the second lemonade, my inner eight-year-old is giddy with sugar and excitement. I want to make a robot right now. I want to make it follow my commands.

Working with specialists in digital learning, MakerClub create courses and arrange and host other workshops in their MakerLab. They aim to make it as accessible as possible and have been spurred on by the results they’ve seen in the children they teach. “What really surprised us was just how smart the kids are. We designed a five week programme for them to get through, that’s now been condensed into an hour and a half.”

After volunteering in a school, Simon realised the coding being taught was years behind the technology. He set up MakerClub to ensure learning about electronics and coding would be fun, accessible and relevant for young people, and inspire the next generation of inventors. Instead of teaching maths and science through exercises in textbooks, they bring it to life. One of the major things they believe in is that by making something yourself, the learning retention is far better. By building something the kids take a problem solving approach, engaging with the underlying processes far more than they would with traditional teaching.

“It’s not about finding one ‘correct answer’, they build things and learn for themselves. If something doesn’t work, they try something else. It teaches them a load of other skills they wouldn’t get otherwise.”

I think back to my school days and the breezeblock style textbooks that were as much fun to work through as they were to lug around everyday. My memories of science lessons are suddenly appearing in black and white, like a bygone age of greyness and boredom.

Morwenna, almost rubbing it in now, describes a course they run called Let’s Build Robots where kids learn to code and programme through building a robot. Science is all too often viewed as strictly factual and lacking in imagination, but here they use technology to be creative.

“People think of science and creativity as being completely opposing pursuits, but it’s just not true. We give them a challenge and let their imaginations go to work. It’s amazing what they come up with.”

All this creative robot building sounds a hell of a lot more exciting than the making painted coat hooks in Design Tech. As Simon explains, however, gaining the required level of resources and expertise is nigh on impossible for schools, and this is another issue they’re looking to address.

“With the budgetary pressures, time and the pace of the industry, schools will never be able to stay fully up to speed. So one of the things we’ve done is create the MakerLab with really high end equipment that’s accessible for everyone.”

If you’re getting envious of all this learning fun the kids are having, you’ll be pleased to hear their quest for accessibility extends to adults as well. With the influence of programming in the workplace only set to increase, it’s becoming a crucial skills to have. Even young adults need to make sure they don’t get left behind. “Something I’m really passionate about is extending this to the generation before” says Morwenna “They completely missed out on any coding education, but over the next ten years it’s going to become more and more important.”

Likewise for parents, their kids will be coming home with coding work, speaking a completely alien language. “To try and help out we also have plans for courses where parents and kids can come and learn together, so the parents will be involved and be able to help them going forward.”

With this news, it’s the adults of Brighton that are now getting excited. MakerClub are offering them the sci-fi childhood they were cruelly denied, as well as inspiring their children in innovative new ways. By using new opportunities in tech, they’re taking the tired old way doing things and making it better for everyone. And they make robots. Really cool robots.

Find out more about MakerClub at makerclub.org

About Guevara: Guevara is a new approach to insurance. We help you team up with people you trust and keep what you don’t spend.

We’re meeting the splendidly unique communities from around Brighton to celebrate what makes them special. If you’re part of a group, club, team or collective and would like to be featured, please drop us a line at rob@heyguevara.com.