Last week, Autodesk hosted KIDmob’s Superhero Cyborgs 2.0 workshop. This is the second Superhero Cyborgs design education workshop* that KIDmob has offered to families – with a particular focus on families of kids with upper limb difference.
"What happens if we address a missing limb as a blank canvas rather than a disability?" asked Kate Ganim, KIDmob Director
The location couldn’t be beat: Autodesk offered up their Studio 9, adjacent to Pier 9, home of an incredible shop facility and various product teams such as Instructables, Tinkercad, Sketchbook, Tinkerplay, and Project Ignite. The creative energy, abundance of close by experts, access to tools, and perfect studio space were all in place. The only real design constraint of the workshop was time: the six workshop participants only had five days to learn the design process and culture and move from ideation to prototype to a presentation at Pier 9.
KIDmob is the mobile, kid integrated design firm, and they designed a curriculum that was jam-packed with learning. The first few days were focused on cultivating a design studio culture and building skills: 3d modeling, 3d printing, sewing, electronics/circuitry, sketch brainstorming, 3d scanning, and plaster casting. The last three days were spent refining ideas for prototyping and then evaluating and iterating prototypes – each Superhero Cyborg moving through multiple prototypes (3+) in order to arrive at the one that they would be presenting on the last day. The final day culminated in a packed house presentation at Pier 9, where the kids unleashed their glitter bombing, water squirting, bowstring-loaded prototypes on the unsuspecting crowd.
With the help of an awesome facilitation team and boundless energy (that at times had to be tempered by outside running breaks), these kids rocked it. We are so proud of the them and all of their hard work, openness, persistence, optimism, collaboration, and inspiring ability to learn and become design thinkers. I look forward to seeing how their prototypes develop in the coming months as they continue to iterate in collaboration with their assigned “Design Buddies.”
10 things that I learned facilitating Superhero Cyborgs:
1. Ditch assumptions about ability.
Be ready to listen to the kids’ unique stories and experiences with their bodies and start from there.
2. Glitter in the eyes – to be avoided at all costs.
3. Take running breaks.
Fast-paced workshops like this one can reach major energy crescendos throughout the day, resulting in some not so great team behaviors (interruption, lack of focus, consideration lapses). These were nipped in the bud by allowing kids to self-administer their own running breaks as needed. Encouraging self-administration of running also helps us to be more tuned in and self-aware to our own physical and mental needs, which helps us to be better designers.
4. Free-for-all snack stations will be abused.
You will watch in horror as kids grab a fifth bag of chips washed down with Pocky before lunchtime. Rations!
5. Skill-building expertise helps a lot.
Having great facilitators who are comfortable and fluent at the various stations kept things engaging and moving efficiently. The kids could have figured things out on their own, or in tandem with facilitators, but this is less ideal for short time frames.
6. Kick out the parents.
It is important that parents are clued in to what is happening so that they can be supportive collaborators with their child post-workshop, but bookmark these conversations for the beginning and end of studio hours. (I love you, parents, you are amazing. However, your presence eats facilitator time that can be spent with the kids, and it’s harder for your kid to focus when you are near.)
7. Bring in the media!
We all got used to having cameras around in no time, assuaging any upfront concerns about it being a design distraction. Despite the headcount of 6 kids for this workshop, having a media team to take photographs and create a video will ensure that the story, process, and hopefully the inspiration, will scale more broadly. Our sponsor, Autodesk, was a big help in ensuring that media was working with us (Thanks Blue Aka Sparkle Spike!). Check out this new coverage from Quartz: "Kids Are 3D Printing Their Own "Superhero Cyborg" Prosthetic Arms (Water Cannons Optional)."
8. Set up a break room for your facilitators.
As a facilitator, it’s easy to get in the zone of being with the kids – until you realize that you’re suddenly past the frazzled point and a little strung out! Encourage facilitators to take as many micro breaks as needed so that they can be better collaborators with the kids. This can be a good place to have one-on-one conversations with parents as well.
9. Set expectations.
Focus on process takeaways over finished product takeaways if your goal is to expose kids to empowerment through design thinking. The prototypes are important but are a secondary artifact of learning how to creative problem solve like a designer.
10. Carve space for reflection.
Discussions that deconstruct or explore why we did certain activities helps to drive home the value of the process. Also, we played “A Rose and a Thorn” at the end of each day to allow people some real talk time to share what worked for them and what didn’t. This gives a voice to frustrations, pain points, and high moments while also offering facilitators a chance to tweak the experience in coming days in order to better meet the needs of participants.
Gratitude: KIDmob (Kate Ganim and Tyler Pew), Autodesk (especially Sarah O'Rourke, Blue, the Pier 9 Community, Fusion 360 Team, and Education Team), the workshop facilitation team (Phume Mthimunye, Maya Kremien, Noam Zomerfeld, Andreas Bastien, and all of the awesome special guest facilitators), the parents and families of the participants, and of course, the kids: Beatrice, Syndey, Riley, Kieran, David, and Jordan.
*For more information about the first Superhero Cyborgs workshop, here and here are interesting recaps. To learn more about KIDmob, visit their website at www.kidmob.org. To get involved, you can reach out to Kate Ganim, Director of KIDmob, at email@example.com.