The first match of 2020 MakeX Spark Online Competition – Smart Lights has brought to a successful close at the end of October. Congratulations to all the contestants whose projects have been enormously recognized by MakeX judge panel. Hard work can really pay off. Meanwhile, it is also noticeable that the organizations behind play a leading role in guiding the contestants to stand out among others. In this match, MakeX awarded five Excellent Organizations who showed great capacity in cultivating contestants and developing a successful mechanism for preparing the competition. Now Let’s take a look at how they did it!

a) Michigan Youth Empowerment Foundation

mYe Foundation, also known as Michigan Youth Empowerment Foundation, has raised more than 18 prize-winners in this competition, including Young All-Rounder, Best Creativity, and Best Demonstration. You must be wondering how they could do that. Well, the founder and executive director of mYe, Grace Cai, shared with us that the key lied in the well-rounded training program and strong time management. By developing four different kinds of 90-min training sessions, mYe expected their students to improve not only their coding ability but also the presentation skill. To do that, they arranged a workshop and invited a distinguished speech coach to teach contestants how to build confidence and make public speaking. Such a workshop was really helpful as presentation skill was one of the evaluation criteria in Spark competition. On the other hand, they also developed a weekly plan and set clear deadlines for students, reminding them of what they need to accomplish each week. “Time management skills were difficult for many students, and we found that even the most talented and technically advanced students struggled with how to break down this complex task into small, manageable parts,” Grace added, “Setting small goals with realistic deadlines helped greatly with this, as well as sending a weekly Google Document to the students with these goals in writing so that they could refer to it if they forgot something during the week”. In addition to that, when contestants almost finished their works and were ready to record their project, the organization also offered a lecture about video production as well.

From coding class to video production class, throughout the whole process, you may now understand why the contestants coming from mYe could stand out in the competition. It’s mainly because mYe truly emphasized the importance of the multi-dimensional development of students and put great efforts into the training. As Grace quoted, “It’s not about winning, but it’s about how to inspire our kids and improve their integrative competence through the program.” And this is exactly the core spirit of MakeX Spark Competition.

b) Youth Coding and Innovation Club

Youth Coding and Innovation Club, a New York-based youth STEM organization from the US, brought home eight awards this time, including Young All-Rounder, Young Engineer, and Excellent Organization. The club has been offering mBot based robotics training since 2016, one of the pioneer organizations in the US to introduce the Makeblock product into youth STEM education.

To prepare for the Spark competition, YCI club started the online Halocode course over the summer. Started in June, the club organized several times of demonstration meetings and introduced the Spark program to the students and parents. They provided an introductory coding class to arouse students’ interest and encouraged them to take the first step to join the competition. As more students joined, the mentors from the club began to give lessons on how to get inspiration and create ideas under the topic of Smart Lights. During the pandemic, contestants could be lazy at times and it could be hard for online teaching. “The most difficult part of the training is the online format, for hardware training, it is slightly hard to demonstrate, and even harder to help students to fix the issue, I have to spend more time helping them one by one to fix the problem, it is kind of time-consuming”, David said, the founder of Youth Coding and Innovation Club. However, the organization always stayed afloat and kept their contestants encouraged. Mentors did not stop to give contestants lessons online and track the progress of the projects from time to time. It’s very important to do that because it was a long-time preparation for this competition and most of the contestants needed to be driven and motivated. Throughout the competition, David also spoke highly of the Halocode board. “Halocode is a very attractive little programmable board, and its functionality is amazing, very easy to adapt and make the entry-level project.”

c) SuperTrack

Another Excellent Organization award went to SuperTrack, a STEAM education organization from South Korea. There was a fact that SuperTrack produced more than fifty projects by students but only submitted around ten projects for the 1st match of Spark Competition. Maybe one of the reasons for that was some projects still needed to be polished and not totally ready for the participation.

In terms of the strategy for this match, Alex Wi, CEO of SuperTrack, believed that media awareness and government engagement could mean a lot to increase the local popularity of this competition and attract many students to join. In order to achieve that, SuperTrack established a free open training program. They organized around 25 mentors in an office to record their courses on Makeblock products, and posted them to the YouTube channel. Students could watch these videos at home and take the online courses anytime. This program successfully attracted more than 50 students to participate in the competition. Other than that, SuperTrack also allocated one mentor to coach two to three contestants and encouraged them to spend three days a week on this project. Mentors tracked the progress of their students every week and gave them advice for improvement. As a motivation, SuperTrack even provided an open office for contestants to make their presentation rehearsal, offered with free snacks and beverage.

d) Bina Bangsa School Semarang

Bina Bangsa School Semarang (BBS-SMG), a leading educational institute from Indonesia, was also awarded the Excellent Organization. Unlike other schools, BBS uses STEAM in daily lessons. Robotic is the main subject, not just an optional or extra subject. They strongly support students in the use of technology and provides opportunities for students to be creative, inventive, express ideas freely, and apply them in a technology product. That’s why they were so excited about MakeX Spark. They submitted seven projects in total to the competition and five of them were awarded, including the Young All-Rounder award. The secret to achieving that, according to Mr. Daniel Gabasa, Principal of BBS-SMG Primary School, was to provide opportunities for children to imagine as high as possible in creating technological concepts that can be used to help human life and pouring it into a flowchart, logic, and sketching the product.

At the very beginning of the project, mentors focused on encouraging students to look for problems in human life related to the theme and brainstorm the various problems that exist, and choose what is most likely solution for them to create. Once the concept was formed, the school started to teach them how to make a flowchart of how technology can solve that problem and then prepare the materials or parts needed. After sketches and wiring diagrams were completed, they took one week to assemble the prototype and make the code, then do trial and error testing. In the course of preparation, “A feeling of giving up sometimes appears in the minds of students”, Mr. Abimanyu Theophano, one of the IT teachers told us, “In carrying out projects for competitions I always instill one thing- not to think that this is homework that must be submitted tomorrow morning. I ask the children to consider that this is your ‘toy’ now. Enjoy your toy and make something as interesting as possible that you will like and be proud of.”

e)International STEAM Education Association

A non-profit organization from Los Angeles, ISEA (International STEAM Education Association), was also recognized as the Excellent Organization in this match. They contributed nineteen projects to the program and brought home eight awards including Best Demonstration and Best Creativity. Similar to other excellent organizations, the strategy of ISEA is also focused on training. Students who were interested in joining the competition received several intensive online training from mentors.

Due to the lack of equipment, the projects from ISEA were mostly based on the Halocode kit. However, it didn’t prevent the contestants from thinking outside the box. Instead, the ISEA mentors encouraged and guide their students to make full use of the kit and try their best to combine it with the materials in real life. For example, one contestant combined the Halocode kit with a cane and created a project called The Electronic Cane for the Blind, which was designed to help blind people to walk safer. This is a great example of showing that if you have a creative idea, you can also build a great project, even with very limited equipment in hand. ISEA did a good job in motivating contestants to develop their imagination.

Thanks to all the Excellent Organizations for sharing their experience in preparing the Spark competition. Have you learned anything from their stories? Or do you want to share your unique experience with us? Leave the comments below to let us know.