Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Waterloo 7

Here it is.  The last night of the trip.  It's been a great time and I can see that many of the boys have grown a lot.  First, a recap of the day, and then some thoughts about the trip. 

The day started with our regular brains on activity.  Today it was cup stacking.  I will admit that I had an opportunity to visit a makerspace at Laurier University's library down the street, so I missed this activity, but returned for their session on public speaking and a coaching session for their presentations on their Create Value Challenge.  There was some frustration as the students got some criticism on the 30 second versions of their presentations, but they learned a lot from these practice runs and ultimately put the feedback to work later in the day.  We then boarded the bus and hoofed it across town to the Tannery.  This is a huge wooden building that used to house the 3rd largest tannery in the British Empire.  The Brits moved out and the building changed purposes multiple times.  Currently, it houses Communitech and Velocity (among other tech based companies) that focus on startups and innovation generally.  It is possible for young entrepreneurs to avail themselves of services, networking, and advice for up to 3 years to get their companies off the ground.  All without having to give up any equity in their companies to Communitech or Velocity.  The spaces cater to all sorts of activities and needs and are interesting and fun to tour.  A previous resident in the building (Google) left behind cafeterias, games rooms, and a slide!

After touring the facility, eating lunch and putting the finishing touches on their presentations, it was time for the boys to pitch their work to a panel of heads of local companies.  They each had 6 minutes to tell there stories and 2 minutes for a Q&A with the judges.  I have to say, this is only the second time that we've done this with students and I was thoroughly impressed with creativity in their work and the quality of the presentations.  The judges had a genuinely difficult time picking a winner.  Ultimately, the award (and a DIY hand-held computer game kit) went to Ace and Riley who developed a publicity campaign for suicide prevention.  The judges were impressed with the way that equated their project to creating value and the high quality of the design work involved.  The day ended with some chill time with the option for the boys who wished, to go back to @CTRL V to blow off some steam in the VR arcade.  Tomorrow, we head to St Jacobs Market before heading home.

I think that hardest thing about the year-end trip is that it happens at the end of the year.  After spending a year with the group, the learning and relationships have developed so significantly that it feels like we are returning to Vancouver with an entirely different group of students than we left with.  There have been so many opportunities to chat, and for the boys to interact with ideas that they would never have time to in the day to day of St George's.  I would be very surprised if at least some parent don't get requests for tools, toys, courses, books, and other items to extend the learning of something that's been triggered by this trip.  One student returned last year wanting an engine that he could dissect and rebuild on his own!

My hope is that each and every boy has come out of this trip knowing something more about themselves.  Maybe their personal project or create value challenge project has sparked something in them and they feel a need to take it further.  Maybe they now realize that they need to learn to code, or build robots, or develop deeper fabrication skills.  Maybe, they've realized that STEM is not for them.  This is all good and I would hope that they find ways of getting support to deepen their learning through the school.  I would love it if I had 18 conversations about personal projects (new or continued) that the students need support for in the coming years.  If it means organizing tools, materials, or mentorship, we can find a way of making it happen. 

Whatever each individual students' experience has been on this trip, it has been an honour to travel and learn with them.  The folks at U of Waterloo: Caity, Lyndia, Jen, and Kris have all been amazing and we can't thank them enough for their energy and hospitality.  And, it is always a pleasure to work and travel with such fine colleagues and Ms Holmen, and Mr Forseth.  See you all in Vancouver!

Waterloo 6

Wow!  We're getting close to the end of the trip.  It feels like we just arrived and the time has flown by, but at the same time, it's been forever since we've slept in our own beds.  Tuesday was an other busy day, centred around the implementation of the Create Value challenge.  But before we get to that...

The day started with a trip over to E2 (Engineering 2), one of the oldest buildings on campus.  We were there to do our brains on activity and get bodies moving and everyone communicating.  The task was to replicate a drawing.  Seems simple, but when you gut multiple chefs into the mix, things can get interesting.  The drawing lived in one room with a single member of a team of 3.  They got to study the drawing and had to describe it to a messenger (who was not allowed to see it).  The messenger, then went down the hall to another room where a budding artist sat ready to replicate this great work of art.  The messenger had to describe the drawing, but could not see what the artist was drawing.  We get some interesting abstract art, even when the original drawing supposed to be a simple cat!

We then headed to E1 and one of the campus makerspaces. In this space the boys were tasked with deconstructing a snowblower engine and then reconstructing it.  Surprisingly, there were few Ikea moments (you know - that point in assembling a piece of furniture to discover that there are 3 extra parts with some strange Swedish name that you have no idea what to do with).  For many of the boys, this seemed to be the first time that they'd ever worked on an engine before and learning how a combustion engine works and simply getting their hands dirty to pull something like this apart was a lot of fun. 

Lunch at an uptown cafe, Harmony, was followed by 3 hours of enacting their plan to create value on the streets of Waterloo.  It is hard to know at this point, exactly how successful each was.  The task of reporting on those experiences and presenting them to a panel of entrepreneurs is today's task.  But they seemed to have fun and watching the boys interact with the citizens of Waterloo on this project seemed to indicate that they were getting the results they desired.

A return to campus, dinner and a night of juggling wrapped up the day. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Waterloo 5

Monday brought a lot of activity starting with the concept of things having the potential to be and not be at the same time.  Quantum Mechanics is being used in quantumcryptography to secure information travelling digitally around the world.  The boys explored this idea by sending and receiving crypto keys using lasers and the concepts around quantumcryptography. 

From here we travelled to a fairly open grassy space to play a communication game where, in groups of three, the boys had to locate and retrieve objects. 
The person doing the retrieving was blindfolded, the person who could see was not allowed to speak and a third person in the group had to issue the direction to the retriever.  It was chaos, and a lot of fun, especially when they started to trip over each other or when one group thought they could get away with retrieving multiple objects out from under the noses of the other groups.

We then returned to our home, E5 (with a brief stop to pick up souvenirs at the UW bookstore).  Here, we turned titanium rings into different colours using the principles of adonization, a little salt water and some batteries. 

Following lunch, the boys engaged in a discussion around brands and marketing in preparation for their Create Value Challenge.  Kerry Anne Rothe, a local marketing consultant, talked about the ideas of brands, the trust that they try to engender, what happens when that trust is broken and the 7Ps or marketing. 

For me, the highlight of the day was dinner.  It was not the highlight because of the food, but a number of members of engineering design teams came to talk and eat dinner with the boys.  After dinner (and in some cases, during) the discussion moved into the various rooms and construction bays where the boys got see the work that the UW students were doing on building cars, rockets, a version of hyperloop, submarines, and more. 
This was a great opportunity for the boys to see what these engineering students do in their spare time and explore projects that they themselves could potentially work on some day.  An added bonus was running into old boys, Nick Varabioff and Reese French.  Reese hung out and visited with some of the boys to share his experiences of first year.

We finished the evening with a chill time at a campfire making smores and playing mafia.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Weekend Update

We've had a busy weekend!  While the students' reflections will be far more detailed and personal than mine, I'll give you a run down of the last couple of days with a few pictures.  Saturday began and ended with some serious work, but was mainly a trip out to Stratford to see the Stratford Festival production of The Tempest.  In sequence:

First, we looked at product design from a user perspective.  The boys paired up and asked either questions around what they like and need in a wallet and then they had to make their partner a wallet.  I found it interesting that some of the boys asked questions that helped them get to know their partner better.  Questions like, "Are you an introvert or extrovert?" and, "What's you're favourite colour?" rather than "What kind of wallet do you want?"

From that brief challenge, we hopped on the bus and headed to the Costume and Prop Warehouse for the Stratford Festival. 
It was very cool to see not only costumes for productions going back the entire 65 year history, but how many of the more intricate ones were designed and built to simulate certain materials and textures or to enable quick changes.  Lunch preceded the drive to the main Festival Theatre, with a brief pause for a particularly slow moving and entitled parade of swans.  The production of The Tempest was outstanding.  Mr Hillis had prepped the students with a brief plot synopsis and made them aware of particularly important themes and this helped us all to understand the work at a deeper level.  What was particularly unique about this production was the fact that Prospero, the wizard and father of Miranda was played by a woman, who had made her Stratford debut in the role of Miranda many decades ago.  The implications of having a woman in a traditionally male role made for interesting discussion in our post performance chat with a couple of the cast.  The boys made some very insightful observations and asked particularly astute questions.  For many, the highlight of the afternoon was that half hour discussion about the play!

After returning to the campus, the boys spent some time on their Create Value Challenge after doing a couple of different challenges to get their brains in gear.  One was a negotiation activity where, in pairs, both parties had to negotiate how they would split $2.  The parameters would change and they would have to come to an agreement on the value of this money.  Then they looked at creativity through a timed circle challenge where they had to draw in 30 circles given some specific constraints.  Once their brains were engaged, they got to spend some more time working our details of their Create Value challenge project with their partners. 

First thing Sunday morning, we headed off to Google where we spent the day.  While the space that we were in is new and un-developed as of yet, it was cool to be one of the first groups to use the only Google Community space of it's kind in the world.  The day started with more of a tech focus as the boys started by using various conductive materials as controllers for their laptops.   From there, they moved on to learning to program Arduino micro-controller boards.  While the use in these beginning projects was fairly basic, the use of this type of micro-controller board is an inexpensive way of automating any number of projects as the software is uploaded to the board then the board can run independent of any other computer.  It is a free-standing simple computer that can run interfaces, sensors, and even small robots.

After lunch, there was discussion around computational thinking, what it is and how one might use it, in and outside of computer programming.  Then, they were organized into groups to build staircases that would hold one of the program coordinators, and ultimately, with luck, Mr Crompton.  It was interesting to watch how the teams constructed their staircases, and how some of the strategies explored earlier in the year were utilized. 

The day ended with the most stressful challenge of the week.  I won't speak of the details of the challenge itself as we hope that this is something that we will do again in future trips, but I will say that this activity will not soon be forgotten.  The lessons learned revolved around teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, questioning ones beliefs.  I would encourage you to read the student blogs to find out their thoughts on their time and particularly what they learned in the dice challenge.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Day 3

Today was a day of culminations.  We finished up our Virtual Reality (VR) designs and took them over to @CTRLV to try them out.  It was exciting to see the boys take images that were designed in a flat 2 dimensional environment and actually walk (or jump, or fall off of) through that world.  The boys also seemed to really enjoy playing in their own and each others worlds as well.  Of course, having the opportunity to then play commercially created games was fun too!

The afternoon brought us a little time to work on our Create Value Challenge (you can read about the parameters of that here if you have not already done so) before our mentors came to discuss the boys' personal projects.  For more than an a hour, each boy had a chance to discuss the ideas that they'd been working on for months with faculty, graduate students, and industry professional.  The conversations that I overheard and the discussions that I had with the boys afterward indicate that most of them were excited by the feedback and encouragement that they received.  I'm hoping that they will be inspired to continue their work and develop their ideas further.

The evening brought a web-based wild goose chase where they got to run around the campus with current students and residence staff.  They were asked to take pictures of themselves performing tasks such as finding an underground mine, recreate the famous Titanic scene, identifying campus landmarks, and spelling names of campus landmarks with their bodies.  These pictures were sent to a program where the organizers (Saint's teachers and residence staff) could encourage them and keep score.  Enjoy the pictures!