How do I learn?

By Devin Dillon 

At Iridescent, I spend large amounts of my day creating and thinking about learning experiences. Questions like, “how can we teach people to do this better?” and “how can I structure this experience to improve learning?” buzz around in my head at all times. I’m tuned into the relevant research, I can engage in conversation with my peers–education is an area of personal fluency. However, this summer, I had an uncomfortable realization… I hadn’t tested my own learning in a while.

How long since I set out to learn and do something completely new to me? Longer than I’d like to admit.

So, armed with an interest in studying my own learning process, sort of a “getting back in touch with the basics” attitude, I set off for NYU’s ITP Make Camp.

Beginning to Learn

I decided quickly that I wanted to learn how to make a wood automaton. As you can see from the photos above, at Iridescent, students are able to make many types of automata. However, I’ve always been sort of intimidated by the gears and getting the parts to move. Best to just jump in, right?

When I started my automaton project, here is what I thought I was going to learn (spoiler: I ended up learning a whole lot more!):

  • how to use a laser cutter
  • how to use the engineering design process for my own project

Using the Engineering Design Process to Learn

At Iridescent, we use the Engineering Design Process to help children learn. I used the framework while I was learning and creating my automaton–here’s how!

  • Inspiration

    After lots of research on how to make automaton, I found this Cupid automaton instructable that I wanted to hack and make my own.

  • Plan

    Plan: I decided to keep the Cupid automaton Instructable gear system but to iterate on the cupid design to make it into a bird. I started by sketching out a bird body for my automaton.

  • Planning

    To make a plan prototype of my automaton, I then drew everything up on Adobe Illustrator and laser cut all of the pieces out of cardboard. You can see here the first iteration of my bird–not very bird like, right?

  • Planning Continued

    I iterated on my bird design and recut it all out–I wanted the body to be more slender, the tail longer, and I realized that Bird #1 didn’t have legs! After everything was cut, I put my cardboard prototype together.

  • Design

    I continued to iterate on my bird design and then cut all of my pieces out of wood once I was confident about its shape.

  • Design, Test and Redesign

    I put all my automaton wood pieces together, which was super complicated even with the directions on the Cupid automaton Instructable! I have a picture here of the second time I put it together–you can see I did the gears wrong.

  • Redesign, Test and Redesign Again

    I connected the wings and got my automaton working! It took me many tries to get the wings positioned correctly, the levers all in place and the wings to stay on the body.

What I really learned (or was reminded of) while I made my automaton

  • How to use a laser cutter, the engineering design process and Adobe Illustrator (an unexpected surprise!)
  • I am constantly reminded that spoon-feeding information to people doesn’t engage their curiosity. My drive to complete this project was wholly based in curiosity–all the skills I practiced during the process… patience, persistence, humor at failing.. none of that would have happened if I wasn’t so driven by my curiosity to figure out how to make my automaton work. I am reminded again and again that I need to leave room for failure and not give people all the answers when I create learning experiences (but at the same time give enough information to avoid total frustration. It’s a very tricky balance!)

And finally…

  • At Iridescent, we are trying to build skills like persistence and curiosity through our Curiosity Machine and Technovation programs, but these are habits that take a lot of practice to build. We’ve chosen a hard task here, but an important one!

Want to make your own automaton? Check out Iridescent’s Curiosity Machine platform!