Our workshops follow the philosophy :“This is the project of the students, by the students and for the students”. The aim of our team of mentors and teachers is to help students in the process of planning and design, empowering them to solve the challenges they come up with: WE LEARN BY MAKING MISTAKES
Every year the project starts around October when we present the program to the students that might be interested in joining in, showing them some projects from the previous years and telling them how do we work.
We then give them a first taste of the hands-on approach, by running some short term workshops (usually 2-3 hours long) about topics like woodworking, design, electronics, informatics and CAD.
Defining the project
Ed Moriarty, the MIT instructor who helped us starting this whole program, comes to Ferrara with a couple of other MIT mentors to help us out with the first phase of the project.
Once we have a definitive list list of the people who are going to participate we run brainstorms activities to gather everyone’s ideas of possible projects. These initial ideas can range from very narrow and specific projects to just broad fields that could be interesting to investigate. We usually have some instructors from MIT who come to help up out with this first phase of the project.
Once we have come up with the main themes and ideas that appeal to the students the most, we start reducing them, by having the students voting their most favorites, until we end up with the desired number of projects.
Let’s go with the designing process
At this point it’s time to form the teams. The students are free to go to the team associated with the project they are more interested in. We also strongly encourage to have a balanced number between males and females in the team, as in average people of different sex tend to approach problems in different ways, both of which are very valuable and complementary to the other.
Each team is then assigned a mentor (a student who has already participated in the Hand on Physics in the previous year) who will follow and help the team during the meetings, in the role of a player-coach.:
The main role of the mentors is to ensure that their students enjoy the time spent in the program at maximum, having fun while learning and creating. They will guide the students through the process of designing the project, of researching the theory behind it and the technology it will use, prototyping and finally building. The best mentor is not the one who knows the answers to all the questions, as it’s not his job to answer them! The best mentor is the one who can stimulate his students the most to be passionate about their project, so that they’ll really take it to heart and enjoy every little step achieved while striving for their objective.
A key skill that the students will learn through the program is how to deal with failure. There has never been a project where everything worked perfectly from the first trial. Learning how to deal with failure is particularly important because it makes the person capable of remaining lucid when things fall off, understanding both what worked and what there is to improve, and of never giving up, but instead to try harder the next time.
In the first two meetings the team will define exactly the specification of the project they want to build and will be doing research about it. After this period the teams will also start making their first prototypes, while still going on with research and design; this is a very important step, as it is at this point that the students will get a real sense of what their project will look like and what has to be improved in their designs.
By the last week of January the teams have usually done three to five prototypes of their projects. In that period we usually hold a week-long intensive workshop, where students remain at school every afternoon instead of just one, and a team of instructors and college students from MIT and the Boston area (with Ed as a Leader) comes to our high school to help, bringing experience, knowledge and materials. By the end of that week the teams are often able to complete a working model of their project, similar to what the final version will look like.
Open House and events!
On the weekend we organize an open-house event at our high school, to share our work with parents, friends and the rest of the community, followed by a similar event at the Department of Physics at the University of Ferrara, for teachers, professors and alumni.
The program then continues with weekly meetings until the end of april, in order not to distract the students from their finals.
The open-house events we do are very important for us, as they help spreading awareness to our local community of what’s going on at Roiti (our high school),
Some collaborations we have now, started right thanks to these events. An example of it is the one that happened with the Physiotherapy department of our University, when some college students who saw a couple of our projects decided to base their thesis on them, working at straight contact with our students. Because of this collaboration we also had contact with the rehabilitation center of our city and with the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center of Boston, and I, as member of that group of students, worked in close contact with an MIT graduate student on the development of an air pumping device with rehabilitation functions he was working on.
At least twice a year we also send groups of our students for a day to the middle schools of our city, where they present some projects to the kids there and have them building some little ones, in order to introduce them to the STEAM world.
In the summer
Some of the students in the program also had the possibilities to work on projects during the summer.
For two times a team of us has been invited to take part in the Engineering Design Workshop, a month-long summer workshop organized by the MIT Edgerton Center at MIT.
We also had a team of our students invited by the SFN Kassel, an organization similar to our one located in Germany, to take part in an Hackathon organized there.
During the summer of 2020, we couldn’t travel abroad because of COVID-19, but we still organized a two weeks workshop in Ferrara, in collaboration with the Edgerton Center who provided us technical support in the form of instructors.