Initiative gives kids tools to realise their dream machines

Summary

A Flemish educational programme is encouraging children to think big and offering them the tools and instruction to take their fanciful machines from a kernel of an idea to a finished product

The quarrel solver

A hodgepodge of quirky machines is going on view in Kortrijk at the end of June. On show: a quarrel solver, a homework do-er, a chill-out chair and a disease sucker – and that’s just a small sample.

The exhibition brings together 25 machines created by 600 students from schools across Flanders. The event closes the 2014-15 edition of MyMachine Flanders, an initiative that teaches primary school pupils to build their “dream machines” with the help of students in secondary technical schools and applied sciences higher education programmes.

The goal of MyMachine is to tap the unfathomable depth of children’s fantasy, in which almost everything is possible and the laws of science don’t act as obstacles. But almost everything children dream up typically remains just that – a fantasy.

In turns out that when kids’ ideas are infused with a sense of reality by grown-ups, dreams do come true.

Since it was founded eight years ago, MyMachine has encouraged children in primary schools to do something with their wildest ideas. It introduced them to young experts to help them realise their ideas. 

Young inventors

“Anything goes” is the guiding concept in the ideas phase of the programme. Practical considerations and drawbacks only kick in during the next stage – execution of the plans. For this part of the programme, applied sciences students from the West Flanders University College (HoWest) – following courses in industrial or digital design, for instance – propose solutions and general guidance in developing the machines. 

It’s not a competitive structure. It’s not about building the ‘best’ machine

- MyMachine co-founder Piet Grymonprez

The best designs are then chosen in consultation with the children and further improved. In the last phase, technical drawings and design concepts are handed over to secondary school students in technical education. They build real prototypes of the machines, with assistance from the young inventors and teachers.

“We heavily emphasise co-operation,” says Piet Grymonprez, research director at HoWest and one of the MyMachine founders. “Our students visit the primary school where they consider – together with the young inventors – which ideas deserve to go through to the next phase, and how these ideas should be adapted to make them real,” he says.

A lot depends on the materials and skills present in the participating secondary school, notes Grymonprez. “Should they use wood, or metal parts? Does the design require moving components?”

Although some of the machines remain fantastical even after designed, some of them actually work. The ruzieoplosser, or quarrel solver, has a wooden rod that pierces the machine, with ends sticking out on both sides. One child tugs at one end, and a light goes on, while the other child tugs at the other end, lighting up another light. When they pull in perfect tension, the middle light comes on, suggesting that their quarrel is solved by working together.

The chill-out chair, meanwhile, finds two soft massage cushions forming chairs. There’s an MP3 player and a place to stash your drink. Best of all, the twins chairs have wheels and pedals, so you can take your chill-out session with you to any location.

A strict selection

About 20 schools participated in this year’s MyMachine edition. When the concept first launched in 2007, founding partners HoWest, local association Intercommunale Leiedal and the Streekfonds West-Vlaanderen targeted only schools in the greater Kortrijk area.

“Now we have to make a strict selection,” says Grymonprez. “Otherwise we would just have too many participants. We wouldn’t be able to keep focusing on quality instead of quantity, so we wouldn’t be able to honour our methodology.”

The founders have even patented their approach and have exported the MyMachine concept to other regions. “Through our franchise model, we have MyMachine running in Slovenia, Portugal, France, South Africa and the US.”

For Grymonprez, the overall purpose behind the initiative is to throw open classrooms and introduce students at the primary, secondary and university college level to creativity, collaboration and entrepreneurship.

“That’s also why we deliberately chose not to have a competitive structure. It’s not about building the best or most original machine,” he says. “It’s about bringing ideas and skills together in a thoroughly innovative creative process.”

18-28 June at Budafabriek, Kortrijk

Photo: the quarrel solver lets users solve playground discussions
© MyMachine

Educational system

The Flemish educational system is divided into two levels: primary (age six to 12) and secondary school (12 to 18). Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18.
Types - There are three educational networks in Flanders: the Flemish Community’s GO! network, and publicly funded education – either publicly or privately run.
Not enough space - In recent years, Flemish schools have been struggling with persistent teacher shortages and a growing lack of school spaces.
No tuition fees - Nursery, primary and secondary school are free in Flanders.
1

million school-going children in 2013

30

million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013

11

percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma