Thanapornsangsuth, S., Laitavorn, Y., Phulsuksombati, K., Laochai, U., Assavanop, R., Somsri, S., & Dejatiwongse Na Ayudhya, Q. (2016). Little Builders: Empowering at-risk children by building and design. Proceedings of Constructionism 2016: Bangkok, Thailand. [PDF] [Poster]
Video of our current project:
Facebook Page: Little Builders (in Thai)
LittleBuilders is a social enterprise that aims to disrupt Thai education by employing constructionist design paradigms and human-centered design processes in at-risk formal and informal schools to foster a grit and growth mindset. We believe that constructing is a valuable learning process for the students; “children don’t get ideas; they make ideas” (Kafai & Resnick, 1996). Little Builders was first established in early 2014 by a group of recent graduates from various backgrounds but a common goal of shifting the Thai classroom from instructionist to constructionist systems, where students can work on their own meaningful project, learn at their own pace, and at the same time create a community of learners. Through our two years of commitment, Little Builders has received a grant from Thai Social Enterprise Office and currently has 7 core team members, over 100 active volunteers, and 533 supporters.
Little Builder’s first project was piloted at Janusz Korczak School, an informal school for HIV+, immigrant, low-income, and street children in Slum Klong Teoi with 22 students and 8 volunteers. We began by teaching simple circuitry and using a motor to develop low-cost racing cars from recycled milk cartons. We captured students’ full attention. Students connected the circuits by themselves and assembled the car within the end of the period just to be able to race with their friends. They said that it felt more like a playground than a classroom. The same lesson was organized in several foundations and informal schools in Bangkok.
The next phase of development was at Baantawanmai Foundation, a foster foundation for Thai narcotic at-risk children. There were seventy 9-14 years old participants and almost thirty volunteers. We combined HCD process into students’ creations. We started by letting students find their own problems or needs in their own community. They came up with a host of problems. The library was too loud because it is located next to a music room; the decomposing plant and fish caused foul odor from the pond; there were pests in the bathroom; the local farm was too big which took too long to water. They ideated solutions, and developed quick prototypes from scrap materials then presented in front of the whole community. Two ideas were selected to be built by the students and volunteers during Builder Day.
Together, we designed and created an irrigation system covering an acre, using 300 meters of piping system and almost a thousand sprinklers. The water was supplied by automatic reciprocating pumps, creatively made by modifying salvaged bicycle parts. The pump can either supply the irrigation system directly or fill up a water storage tank for later use. The younger participants also learned the concept of art and chemistry by creating pest repellent candles to solve the problem of pest control in the
community’s residential area.
Seeing the problem with sustainability in running constructionist projects, we seek ways to integrate Little Builders in to Thai formal schools and provide professional development for teachers at the same time. We will be initiating our project at Wat Pak Bor School (an urban school under Department of Education Bangkok Metropolitan administration) from November 16, 2015 – February 8, 2016. We received strong support from the school’s principal, authorizing eighth grade students to participate in our program.
The students will be using HCD processes to design and build constructionist projects for themselves or people in their community. The program will start off with ice breaking and team building activities, then a full day of overview in HCD processes through activities of building small projects. After giving the students an overview of constructionist projects and HCD, the students will come up with their own meaningful project on Empathy & Define Day. Facilitators will train the students on interview methods then let them go out to interview and observe the community and be immersed with their target users to figure out the users’ needs (define). We will continue to work on the rest of the HCD processes (ideate, prototype, and test) the following week. Once an idea is formulated, the students will start building on Builder Day. The building process will take up to 2 weeks. Since the students will be presenting and exhibiting their Little Builders projects to the public audience, we will also coach them on public speaking skills. The last day of the project is the Showcase Day, where we hope to see the students taking ownership of their projects.