Part of the appeal of the maker movement is its expansiveness. Electronics, coding, fashion design, audio engineering, filmmaking, woodworking—it’s all on the maker smorgasbord.
A new opportunity from Digital Promise challenges students to check a couple items off of that list at the same time.
The FilmMAKER Challenge asks middle and high school students to “reinvent an everyday product to make it more sustainable, accessible, or beautiful”—and meanwhile make a short documentary video that narrates that process. Students must work in groups with an adult mentor and submit their entries by March 24. Winners will be invited to present their products and films at the Bay Area or New York Maker Faires later in the year.
Digital Promise, a nonprofit that promotes digital learning innovation, doesn’t expect groups to dive right into the challenging project. The organization is also providing support to educators who want to help students enter the contest. A supplementary guide provides educators with a series of activities and assignments they can use to warm students up for the contest. It starts off with a few short exercises encouraging collaboration (including an improv theater game), and builds up to projects that give students experience prototyping, designing, and filmmaking. Together, the activities orient participants to the concept of design thinking.
In a recent article for The Atlantic, an educator tries to get a director at IDEO, a firm that supports educators in using design thinking in their classrooms, to define the term. The director, Neil Stevenson, balks—the tendency to distill design thinking down to a singular definition disregards the nuance and complexity of the idea, he insists.
But, he ultimately tells the educator, at the core of design thinking is empathy—understanding the needs of a real audience and designing a thoughtful product that meets them. That’s where the “film” piece of the FilmMAKER challenge comes in.
“Even the best ideas fail to make an impact if they can’t be shared with the world,” says Digital Promise.
The contest challenges students to not only design a better product, but to communicate why it is better and how it can help people. Throughout the process, students have to consider who their target audience is, and how to expand it. The exercise is meant to help students think about how to effect change in the world outside their classrooms.
Educators inside and outside of school settings have integrated design thinking, or human-centered design, into their practice. At Y-Creator Space, an afterschool program at three sites in Pittsburgh, young people complete projects that address community needs or serve another purpose. Past participants have prototyped and built aquaponics systems and light-up shirts for cyclists.
A couple years ago, the University of Pittsburgh and the Sprout Fund joined forces for the two-day Water Design Challenge, which asked high school students to devise an innovative method for raising awareness of water crises. One winning group created a website depicting how far women in various countries have to walk to retrieve drinkable water. Then they hosted a fundraiser race, where participants ran the average water-retrieving distance. Another winning group took a completely different approach, designing a residential rain barrel system that would give tax credits to homeowners who used it.
The FilmMAKER challenge is even more open-ended, demanding that the young designers pursue an interest of their own and exercise their creativity muscles. Will they reinvent a lunchbox or a license plate? Crutches or a coffeemaker? And then can they make the case for their creation?