Teacher Spotlight: Rockcacti

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Introduction: Teacher Spotlight: Rockcacti

About: Matthew was previously a STEAM integrator with a private K-8 school. He loves taking things apart to see how they work, and will sometimes put those things back together. Much of his time is spent working with…

Welcome to another Teacher Spotlight Interview!

I had the opportunity to connect with Anthony Tan, known as Rockcacti on this site.

Anthony is currently working towards a Bio-Engineering degree in college, and has been actively working on expanding hands-on making programs in middle schools and high schools through Maker Hub Club, a non-profit he created.

He's recently begun looking into transitioning youth focused STEAM programs online.

It was an amazing opportunity to hear what Anthony was working on. After our chat, I sent him a series of questions, which are shared, along with his answers, in the following steps.

Step 1: An Opportunity for Me to Pick Up Design and Engineering Skills

When did you first discover Instructables and what inspired you to post your first project?

I found out about Instructables early in high school as I was looking for hands-on learning opportunities and project inspiration, but it wasn’t until my first year of college that I posted my first instructable, SeedShuttle. SeedShuttle is a submission to the Growing Beyond Earth maker contest, a NASA competition in which teams design and build a plant growth chamber for the International Space Station. The challenge of maximizing food production within a constrained volume piqued my interest because it was an opportunity for me to pick up design and engineering skills while applying my love for growing plants towards a technical challenge. The SeedShuttle instructable outlines my team’s design process for our winning plant growth chamber, which increases production capacity four-fold relative to that of NASA.

You mentioned you were studying engineering at University, can you tell me why you decided to go that route?

I'm currently pursuing an undergraduate Bioengineering degree because it’s at the intersection between my love for biology and my fascination for engineering. Specifically, I am interested in applying my degree towards agricultural technology such as fermentation and vertical farming, with a focus on sustainability of our food system.

Step 2: While Many High School Students Are Interested in Making, They Often Lack Resources to Make Their Projects a Reality.

You created Maker Hub Club while you were in high school, and have since turned it into a non-profit. Could you tell me more about why you created this and why it is this important to you?

It all began with a desire to offer students the opportunity to make projects that would further their educational journey. In high school, I had plenty of project ideas but few resources and no funding to make them a reality.
While teaching at a maker camp in my sophomore year of high school, I was amazed by all the projects my sixth-grade students made and wondered "Why is it that high school students like me rarely make projects even though they have plenty of project ideas?"
I realized that while many high school students are interested in making, they often lack resources to make their projects a reality, and while most high schools have technology and art clubs, they have yet to establish an all-inclusive maker club that welcomes students from diverse maker disciplines.
So in my senior year of high school, I founded Maker Hub Club, an organization that brings together student makers from all disciplines and provides them makerspace equipment, funding for projects, and most importantly, a community where they can share their projects and collaborate with others. In 2019, I became the winner of the Honors GradU #DesignABetterFuture challenge and received a grant to expand my reach. Today Maker Hub Club is a non-profit project that serves student makers from secondary schools all across the U.S.
This work is very important to me because it provides students with the maker resources, funding, and the community I wish I had in secondary school. Our programs help advance students’ current interests and professional development. They also introduce students to various areas of making that could shape their career trajectory.
I myself have grown. Since starting Maker Hub Club, I have connected with many student makers and created many projects that have inspired me to pursue a career in agricultural technology. Reflecting on how Maker Hub Club has accelerated my development as a student maker makes me so eager to continue my work and share this journey with others in the student makers community.

Step 3: CAD Is Important for Student Makers to Learn Because It Helps Tremendously in Visualizing and Communicating Three-dimensional Designs.

What prompted you to start using Instructables in your program and how does it work?

We began to explore digital tools such as Zoom, Slack, and Instructables as we launched our 2020-2021 Individual Membership Program, our virtual offering during the COVID-19 pandemic. We decided to incorporate Instructables into our program because it is an amazing digital platform for sharing projects and it promotes educational values that align with Maker Hub Club's mission.
Currently we offer Instructor Awards, an opportunity where student makers write an instructable about their project and receive a reimbursement for project expenses. With Instructables as a requirement, we can help students develop documentation and communication skills and we can easily showcase their work.
In the future, we hope to utilize Instructables further. In particular, we would love to sponsor an Instructables contest that challenges students to design a project that helps their community.

Maker Hub Club's most recent workshop series focuses on 3D modeling with Tinkercad and Fusion 360, why do you feel these skills are important for students to learn?

We're offering a 3D Printing Workshop Series this Fall because many of our students expressed interest in learning that topic. In this workshop series, we teach students how to create models with computer-aided (CAD) design software Tinkercad and Fusion 360 as well as how to 3D print those models.
CAD is important for student makers to learn because it helps tremendously in visualizing and communicating three-dimensional designs. And of course, 3D printing is an extremely useful prototyping skill.

Step 4: Different Skill Sets and Backgrounds Allows the Creation of Unique and Interesting Projects That Can’t Be Done by Individuals.

How do you inspire inquiry and making in your program?

We encourage students to ask questions during our Workshop Series and AMA (ask-me-anything) guest speaker events.
Making is built into almost all of our events. In our Workshop Series, students learn through making several projects. We provide funding for student projects via Instructor Awards. And of course, our annual Maker Contest incentivizes students to make!

You spoke a lot about getting students to work across disciplines. Could you tell me more about this and why you feel this is important?

I always emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary teamwork because bringing together a team with different skill sets and backgrounds allows the creation of unique and interesting projects that can’t be done by individuals. And more often than not, real-world maker projects require working across disciplines and with teams.
A past Maker Hub Club project that illustrates this is Makerspace Launch, an informative meeting to introduce students to makerspaces on campus. For this event, the team prepared a presentation about all makerspace resources and created keychains that could attach to student backpacks.
In the team, we had students skilled in using all the various makerspace equipment, enabling us to lead an initiative that showcased the diversity of makerspace equipment. With a designer and engineer on the team, we were able to design and fabricate aesthetically pleasing laser-cut keychains.

Step 5: An Effective Way for Students to Retain Knowledge Is to Synthesize and Apply the Skills.

You mentioned that you build workshop series based on milestones. I was wondering if you could elaborate on how you decide on a milestone, and fashion lessons to lead towards that goal?

We build workshop series based on milestone projects because an effective way for students to retain knowledge is to synthesize and apply the skills they've learned thus far. Plus, it's fun being able to turn what you've learned into a project!
In our Fall 2020 3D Printing Workshop Series, students submit their designs to us and we mail their 3D prints over. We have four milestone projects, which combine concepts among lessons:

  1. Nametag
    1. Create a name tag for yourself
    2. New concepts: Placing objects, modifying objects, changing shape and size, moving objects around
  2. Simple Machines
    1. Incorporate one of the six simple machines into your model
    2. New concepts: grouping objects, aligning objects, importing/exporting objects, tolerancing with moving parts
  3. Phone Case
    1. Import a model of a mobile phone and build a case around it
    2. New concepts: importing models, slicing software, finishing tools and processes
  4. Design Contest
    1. Design anything that relates to one of the contest applications and uses at least 10 techniques taught in the lessons and document your design process
In coming up with a workshop series, we first make a list of all the lessons we hope to teach, then we develop project milestones that synthesize lesson concepts, and lastly we rearrange the lessons and milestones so that they flow smoothly from one into another.
(Huge shoutout to Aadhav Prabu for developing this workshop series! He's a high school sophomore who has been teaching 3D printing for 2 years.)

Step 6: Microscopy Is So Fun Because It Transports You to a Different World.

What is your favorite hands-on classroom project?

My favorite hands-on classroom project is microscopy! Microscopy is so fun because it transports you to a different world.
In summer before my senior year of high school, I performed research on bacteria and had the opportunity to create microscopy slides. Here’s my favorite one, a mesmerizing pattern created by filamentous bacteria.

Step 7: Have Students Write Up an Instructable So They Learn How to Communicate Effectively.

If you could give any advice to someone new to using Instructables in the classroom, what would it be?

Use Instructables as a project inspiration and documentation tool! There's plenty of educators who use Instructables to share classroom projects with others. Instructables is also a great place for students to put out their projects to the world. You could have students write up an instructable for maker projects done in class so they learn how to communicate effectively.

Is there another designer (Instructables, Tinkercad or elsewhere) that you recommend others check out for inspiration?

I follow a variety of makers for inspiration and John Spencer is high up on that list. John Spencer is a renowned educator and maker who develops frameworks for creative thinking. I highly recommend watching his design thinking video, The LAUNCH Cycle.

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