In September, we introduced a new Spotlight series of interviews with Maker Champions featuring educators nominated by colleagues for their work to bring quality making experiences to students.  Our first Maker Champion interview featured educator Twila Busby, who shared how her experience with project-based learning in Arizona eventually inspired her to explore the maker movement in China. Twila nominated our next featured Maker Champion Carrie Leung, Director of Maker Ed at Shenzhen American International School (SAIS) and describes her as an educator who “works to bring communities together around making and to help students realize their potential.” Read the interview between Twila and Carrie on our blog and learn more about why Carrie values community in spaces for making and how her work is supporting other maker educators.

Spotlight on Maker Champion Carrie Leung

Twila Busby began her work as a Maker Champion in Tuscon, AZ as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Utterback Magnet Middle School where she introduced and implemented project-based learning (PBL). From there, she took her experience and PBL expertise to Shenzhen, China and began exploring the international maker movement. Read more about Twila’s journey in our previous blog post, Celebrating Maker Champions.

Carrie Leung is a lifelong maker, mentor, thinker, and tinkerer, who always strives to kindle curiosity and imagination that flames into something tangible. A Silicon Valley veteran, Carrie made the shift from her tech and finance career into education, focusing on making relevant education accessible. She empowers young minds and elevates communities through making, sharing, and collaboration by executing project-based learning methods, creating open source platforms, and encouraging grassroots movements in communities, as well as leveraging maker culture to positively progress communities internationally.

TB: How did you become involved in the maker movement and particularly maker education? What tools/resources were most helpful?

CL: Being a maker has always been part of who I am. Being curious, community oriented, exploratory with ideas, and resourceful was not only who I am, but were requisite dispositions in the immigrant community I grew up in. The activity of making enabled us to find solutions and create for ourselves and neighbors things our neighborhood lacked. It has been deeply rewarding and has carried through with me as an adult.

Collectively, what we have achieved in education worldwide has been amazing thus far, however, the world is changing at a much more rapid pace than the classrooms are, thus begging the question- are we properly preparing our youth for an increasingly unpredictable future? I feel maker education is an accessible solution. According to the World Economic Forum, the top three skills jobs required were complex problem solving, coordinating with others, and people management… AND that was for 2015. How many schools are focusing on these skills in the classrooms now- three years later?

People are the most valuable resource. This stems from the underlying assumption that everyone can contribute. In some cases, these contributions can mean the life or death of an idea. Without Twila’s support and our principal, Debbie Summer’s approval, we would not have the thriving Maker Ed program that we have today in our school. It is just a simple truth. Conceivably, the Maker Education landscape could look quite different in our city at this moment if Twila and Debbie hadn’t supported and encouraged sharing with the community at large.

Why is community building important to you in regards to making?

The answer to this question is deeply rooted in asking, ‘What kind of environment do I want to be a maker in? What kind of environment can one thrive and progress in?’

To me, the biggest draw of the maker movement is the ideology of sharing and collaborating. I know a community with the right values can produce enormous gains. The neighborhood where I grew up was an exemplary experience. For all that we lacked, we made it up with sharing and more. It was a mixture of families from vastly different cultures, joined by a similar situation. Each one of us could’ve been insular and kept to ourselves, but instead, we openly worked together to make our community thrive in the best way possible.

Having a community is essential. It is a necessity to support, sustain, and progress making. Plus, it’s just more fun to be part of a community! Imagine going to a party with no one there!

How is the environment and support for Maker Education in China?

In my seven years here, I have formed the opinion that China is very thoughtful and aware of what skills and abilities their future workforce will need. Beijing has either directly or indirectly mandated the need to cultivate innovation, creativity, and sustainability. To implement this effectively into one of the largest student populations on the planet is indeed a challenge.

In Shenzhen, much of this cultivation is evident in the Education Bureau’s initiatives and funding into the public schools in support of project-based learning and Maker Education the past few years. Aside from government approval, there has been outstanding support from the communities across the board. The psyche of Shenzhen is very similar to the maker mindset, so it’s not a stretch to say there is much support from parents to hobbyist to industry alike. The real challenge is access and meaningful execution.

Why, with an already demanding, full-time job as a teacher, did you decide to co-found SteamHead MakerSpace?

On constant lookout for meaningful, purposeful, and relevant teaching practices, I, personally, was looking for resources, support, and inspiration for my own growth. I thought to myself, if I’m looking for this, other teachers might be as well. So I started reaching out. What I found was a great number of like-minded educators, with varying practices and methods that were doing great things in their own spheres of influence. So why not connect and share?

SteamHead is a direct response to the communities’ needs. Many teachers (anyone can be a teacher- classroom, after school, mentor, parent, etc) were trying to achieve the same overarching goals. Some were hindered by access to information, tools, and materials. Some had a desire to share their experiences and what they possessed but lacked the means to. As a result, SteamHead was created to provide an inclusive hub for open exchange, research, experimentation, and creation, in person and/or digitally. So in an indirect way, co-founding SteamHead made my job as a teacher more efficient and fruitful. Hopefully, it has done that for other teachers as well.

Do you know an educator or community member doing great work towards bringing quality maker learning opportunities to students? Recognize them in a future newsletter! Email maker@digitalpromise.org and tell us why your nominee is a great example of a Maker Champion.