Planting the Seeds for Future Generations of Growth

Written by Beth van As

The African School for Excellence

Watching the sun slowly rise above the city scape, we drove out the concrete jungle. Passing shops, office blocks and eventually meandering on the motorway drew us to the outskirts of Ekurhuleni. Where houses become scattered and more shacks become visible. The road became more congested with local taxis and the foot traffic in local village of Tsakane was already busy with people starting off their day, travelling to where they needed to be.

Driving along the sidewalks I watched the children walk in their dusty sandals and the locals opening their tiny superettes where you can purchase fresh fruit and veggies. There were no beautifully paved pathways or well manicured gardens. How lucky am I that I had a GPS on my cell phone spewing out directions on how to get to the African School for Excellence about 76km’s from my own residence.

I was very excited. The car was jam packed with two Robobeasts and one Morgan 3D printer plus some other odds and ends. I had charged my camera and couldn’t wait to capture the special moments when enquiring minds meet new technology. Enable One Enable Many was very prominent in my mind.

When we arrived we were surrounded by children all wanting to know what we going to show them. I grabbed my camera and took off to get a few shots of the school while the car inside was stripped bare of all it’s treasure.

On my way to the meeting area I was greeted by two young boys in grade 8. The questions were coming fast and furious. When we got to stand in front of the Robobeast, before it was even plugged in and operating, they wanted to know how it worked and how it’s possible to draw something and make it into a 3D model that you can print out. “Can we print our cellphones?” “Will it work when it’s printed?”

As I turned I saw some of the students playing with the Roboarms and Roboleg that we brought for show and tell. Even though they still had their hands they were making the fingers open and close without being told anything about the item. You could feel the learner’s excitement permeate the air. They were hungry for knowledge. When chatting with some of the students they told me they come to school from 07h30 in the morning until 16h30 in the afternoon and that is too short. They want to spend more time at school learning!

At the moment the school has 12 classrooms with an average of 163 learners. 4 trained teachers and 8 teachers in training. They have a grade 7 and grade 8 class. They are growing the school each year as each grade moves up. So next year in 2015, the current grade 8 class will move into grade 9 so they will have three grades in the school. The following year four grades etc. until the school is fully populated from grades 7 to 12.

The roughly 100 children that arrived at the school for the day’s activities were split into groups. We had set up the 3D printing in one classroom, the electronics and robotics in another classroom and the Quad copter fun in the marquee along with a Vacuum Former that was build at the House 4 Hack. There was also a Robobeast set up outside.

I watched as Nico and Schalk explained to some of the learners how vacuum forming works and how their contraption forms the moulds. I watched with curiosity as one side of the box was opened and a 3 bar heater was turned on, then the “lid” between the two boxes was unscrewed and a piece of thermal plastic was inserted in between, screwed back together and closed over the heater. On the other side of the box the items they wanted “formed” were placed and the waiting game began. Waiting for the thermal plastic to become pliable. Along the side of the vacuum former was a big green and black vacuum cleaner where the pipe was taped into one side of the box where the items to be molded were placed.

Once the plastic was hot and pliable the vacuum cleaner was turned on, the lid flipped over on top of the items. Squeals of delight permeated the air as the students watched the molding process before their very eyes.

Behind me I heard the hum and buzz of the quad copters starting up. All the students that were standing in the marquee rushed to outskirts to see what the commotion was all about. The grins and laughter as they watched the quads lift off the ground and fly high into the sky was priceless. Arnold’s quad has a camera attached so he set up a live feed onto a projector in the marquee. When some of the students realised what they watching they crowded around the screen, pointing and laughing.

I moved along to the classroom full of 40 students who were learning about electronics and Arduino. Grade 6 student, Cable, who builds his own robots, was showing the students how he got started and what they can do. Faces pinched in concentration absorbing the technology.

Filtering into the 3D classroom, where Guy was explaining on a projected screen how to create a 2D object in Inkscape. Then taking that 2D object and converting it into a 3D stl file to be printed. Rich took the file and got the printers going. Students crowded around the Beast and the Morgan watching as the thing that was imagined is becoming a reality.

Over all it was a day of fun and information sharing. Planting the seeds of creativity using amazing technology. By the end of the day the kids were getting very creative with the vacuum forming machine and fashioning all sorts of interesting shapes and words. Reflecting back over the day, it was so humbling to see kids in dusty shoes, walking everywhere they needed to go, being exposed to the forefront of technology and so thankful for the opportunity to interact with everyone.

Thanks to the House4Hack, Robobeast and Robohand for your contributions to making the day a success. Some special memories were made and the legacy of Robobeast and Morgan will remain at the school with a donation by Rich van As of a Morgan 3D printer, as well as the University of Johannesburg donating a smaller RepRapPro Ormerod 3D printer to ASE. With heartfelt thanks from Jay and all the teachers who are looking forward to learning and passing on the knowledge.

Go and do GREAT things! Enable One Enable Many.

Thank you to Standard Bank for donating and Philip Snyman for organizing the snack packs.

Thank you to UJ Solar team for donating the RepRapPro 3d printer.

Thank you to RoboBeast for donating the Morgan 3d printer.

Thank you to Arnold and Toby for donating the hardware for the library servers.

Thank you to everybody from House4Hack that planned the event, made the website, prepared and presented tutorials, assisted in the class rooms, prepared demonstrations, made videos, took photos, made time-lapse videos, manned the demo stands, FPV plane flying, FPV quad copter flying, operated the 3d printers, operated the vacuum former, donated hardware, downloaded and configured (free and opensource) software, moved tables around, cable tied table cloths, answered millions of eager questions, loaded and unloaded cars, hearded cats etc. etc.

The House4Hack team consisted of:

Cable and Neil Maharaj, Toby Kurien, Raoul Diffouo, Guy van den Berg, Jeandré M, Richard van As, Philip Booysen, Beth van As, Arnold de Bruin, Kobus van der Walt, Nico Rautenbach, Schalk Heunis