Kalypso Filippou – 26/02/2021
A unique collaboration of primary, secondary and higher education that enables students to bring ideas to life, invented by children.
Our world is evolving all the time. Unexpected events on a local or global scale disrupt our lives. Navigating through this everchanging environment is challenging. More than ever, humanity will have to rely on new ideas, new concepts, new answers. And these come from people who are confident to use their imagination, think outside of silos, and inspired by the possibility to improve our society. This is not the privilege of a handful of intelligent, brave and lucky women or men. All of us can do this as long as we could learn this in a supporting ecosystem.
This is where the MyMachine Global Foundation brings an impactful solution. EmJoy got together with Co-Founder & Managing Director Piet Grymonprez to talk about the importance of creativity, joy and wonder in education worldwide.
Emjoy: MyMachine is a unique, multi-award-winning methodology, running in one school year and consisting of three steps: how does it work?
Piet Grymonprez: It all starts in primary schools where we ask children to invent their dream machine (Step 1). Anything goes, as long as they really, really want it. In Step 2, university students help them in designing a concept and in Step 3, technical or vocational secondary school students help out in building a real working prototype. The students of all levels collaborate, as we make sure to cluster participating schools based upon each other’s proximity.
Emjoy: Who are the participating students at college level?
Piet Grymonprez: We work with students from many fields of science, like product design, occupational therapy, teacher training, art, engineering, electronics, architecture, digital design, game design, and I’m probably forgetting some. The beauty here is that our model works with, not all, but certainly many study fields.
Emjoy: Can you give us some examples of dream machines?
Piet Grymonprez: Together they invent dream machines like the Turning-Bunk-Bed, better known as the “never-have-to-discuss-anymore-who-gets-to-sleep-on-top-machine”, the “home-work-making-machine”, the “jump-to-the-moon-machine”, the “chase-away-the-evil-ghosts-from-under-my-bed-machine”, the “food-for-everyone-machine”, and many more; some tens of thousands so far. Some dream machines are about having fun, others are serving a personal purpose, anything goes really.
Emjoy: We can imagine that bringing your own dream machine to life, creates a lot of joy with the students. What is at the core of MyMachine?
Piet Grymonprez: While they work for months on bringing ideas to life, the participating students use creativity, collaboration, design thinking, communication skills, mathematics and physics and all the other knowledge and skills they need for this inspiring endeavour. For many involved students, the learning process becomes so much easier. The secret to this is joy and wonder: the joy of creating their own prototype is a giant propeller of their learning hunger. While it oftentimes is hard for students to understand why it’s important for them to know the basics of mathematics, or physics or the dynamics behind collaboration, their buy-in to all of this is the engaging factor of bringing their own ideas to life. Their commitment to learn is firm, driven by wonder to look for the solutions needed to conceptualize and produce a working prototype of their invention.
And all students learn along the way that nothing comes easy, that bringing an idea to life means you will need to rely on teamwork, empathy, respect for each other’s talents, and persistence and resilience.
Emjoy: You started in Belgium but MyMachine is now operational in many countries worldwide?
Piet Grymonprez: Yes, we started our non-profit in Belgium. At first, we didn’t think of turning it into an international venture. That came through winning the United Nations World Summit Award. The UN invited us to a global summit of theirs in Mexico, and we could present MyMachine to delegations of 89 countries. Some of them asked us to bring our model to their country. That is why we started thinking about how to grow MyMachine outside of Belgium. After many considerations, we decided to grow our model through franchises. So we look for local partners that are committed to the same values and who are capable of setting up a local MyMachine Chapter. Once the contract is signed, we step in in helping these local partners in setting up the regional collaboration of all education levels. That is how today we have Chapters on three continents.
Emjoy: The involvement of the students is MyMachine is a lengthy process, am I right?
Piet Grymonprez: Absolutely. MyMachine goes deep. It is not a quick interaction in the class. It is an intense collaboration of students in all three education levels, spanning 5 to 7 months. On average, producing one dream machine equals about 49 people collaborating; this includes students, teachers and professors. So far, we have managed over 730 000 students-hours of creative and productive work.
Emjoy: And there is even more. With your MyMachine DreamsDrop Campaigns, you invite primary school teachers worldwide to join with their class. How does it work?
Piet Grymonprez: We have created an online world-map of dream machine ideas. Anyone can upload, adults and children alike. But once a year, we run an open call to Primary School Teachers around the world to join with their class. Then we pick ideas from that online world-map and brings them to life in collaboration with universities worldwide. That is how the MyMachine Global Foundation has already collected thousands of ideas from 44 countries worldwide. It allows us to serve regions and countries where we don’t have a local Chapter up and running yet. As we speak the 2021 Campaign has just been launched and we’ve already collected dream machine ideas from Primary classes in over 20 countries on all continents. It’s super exciting. We will be picking a couple of dozens of ideas and bring them to life with university students from Howest University in Belgium and Monterrey Tech in Mexico.
Emjoy: These results didn’t remain unnoticed. MyMachine has already been honoured and endorsed by leading organizations and experts around the world, including The New York Academy of Sciences, Harvard University, Sir Ken Robinson, Sir Richard Branson, The Qatar Foundation, Katerva, Designmanagement Europe, and in the USA you won a Reimagine Education Gold Winner award which is over there known as ‘the Oscars for education’. And very recently you have been awarded Innovator Of The Year (2021) by HundrED?
Piet Grymonprez: It’s true, MyMachine is appealing. I think it’s because of our positive message. We are all about bringing dreams to life, intergenerational collaboration, creativity and joy. Yes, the globally renowned HundrED Academy (Finland) consisting of over 150 experts worldwide, have declared me personally as innovator of the year. I’m still very humbled and delighted with this recognition. But it is equally important to stress that all of these don’t just happen, it is because of a lot of hard work actually. And obviously not just by me, but by the whole MyMachine Global team, all our Chapter Coordinators worldwide and of course the participating students and educators. HundrED by the way is an extremely powerful organization, based in Finland, working globally to amplify education innovators like ourselves. HundrED is just top-notch in doing just that. We are very proud and lucky to have them as our partner for our shared goal of improving education worldwide.
Emjoy: The Lego Foundation featured MyMachine as part of their 2021 Global Spotlight on Creativity. Why is creativity so important?
Piet Grymonprez: The Lego Foundation teamed up with HundrED and studied hundreds of organisations worldwide that address creativity. They ended up selecting 20 to be featured in their spotlight. We are super proud to be one of them. Creativity in education is incredibly important, because if education would only focus on knowledge-transfer, it would not add to human intelligence. It’s only creativity, fueled with curiosity, that can go beyond the status quo, that can push the boundaries of knowledge, and raise the bar of human intelligence.
Emjoy: With MyMachine you don’t want to impact just students, but also educators and the education system?
Piet Grymonprez: Educators experience the power of project-based learning. MyMachine shows them that having a more creative, design-thinking, maker-centred-learning approach is entirely feasible within the rigid context of education. They participate in an open education process that proves to students that what happens in a classroom can impact the -and links to- the real world. That is the pivotal moment students realize that MyMachine – and thus, education – brings them skills they can use for life.
Emjoy: MyMachine is open-ended. How important is that?
Piet Grymonprez: That is a crucial element of our DNA. We are not imposing a theme upon the students. Otherwise, it would again be us, adults, telling them what we think is important. In MyMachine we listen to the students, and we value their ideas. Crucial for sparking that joy in learning. We create an opportunity for students to learn that having ideas is essential. That you shouldn’t be afraid to express your ideas -even if they sound a bit weird or challenging in the beginning. They learn what it takes to bring an idea to life. You know, whether you want to solve a challenge in your job or neighborhood, create something fun, start your own company or if you wish to come up with a solution for something personal or a global issue, it all starts with finding the confidence to express your ideas and bring them to life. This is where in the words of Harvard University “MyMachine delivers the ‘I can do that’ perspective to all participants”. As adults, we all have been in that meeting where yóu would be the one expressing an idea, and all other participants in the meeting room instantly give you all the reasons why your idea won’t work: too expensive, legislation, won’t make the deadline, budget-restraints, you name it. The result of that is that most of us turn silent and become refrained from expressing our ideas. This is how many companies, organizations, communities and the world at large is/are losing (a gateway to) many great ideas.
Emjoy: So you are building creative confidence from a young age on?
Piet Grymonprez: Exactly. Look, if we really want a better future, we will first need to have the capacity to invent it. For that, we need a lot of new ideas. MyMachine shows that taking those dream machine ideas seriously means the world to all participating children. That is what MyMachine is all about: a context in which we see that there are a lot more talented, smart, innovative people than we presume; confident to use their imagination. Taking this authentic learning experience that MyMachine is bringing with them, will mean for some students to come up with ideas on a personal level, or for their local community, or start their own company or non-profit, and for some to come up with a solution for a global issue. But whatever the scope, it all starts with having the confidence that your ideas matter and can be brought to life.