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Imitate - Modify - Innovate

Updated: Feb 24

These three words immediately caught my attention, because they capture the essence of experimental learning, or learning by doing.  Each one is important, not only as a step to get to the next one, but also in their own right:

  • Imitation is the most effective way to acquire new skills.  Listen, observe and try it out.  Build an easy project first, then a more complicated one, step by step improve your manual skills and mental mastery.

  • Modification:  Think about your work and consider how you can adapt and optimize it to suit your own needs?  Apply the new skills and principles to build something unique.  Add new folds to a paper airplane to experiment and learn something new, build furniture that fits the odd corner of your room.  Tweak the software or hardware of your robot to improve it performance of a given task.

  • Innovation flows out of Modification, these can’t be neatly separated.  Innovation has to do with coming up with new ideas and going beyond small changes. It happens when a student discovers something new to him/her and implements it.  Innovation need not be new to the world, just new to the student.  You can see their eyes light up when it happens.

Experimental learning is exactly what Robomov’s kits are designed to inspire.  We provide a robot kit that’s easy to build from instructions to get students going, but then gives them lots of space not only to program the given hardware, but to dive deeper and Modify, to add industry standard sensors and build something new, be it a soccer robot or a Halloween contraption that responds to approaching trick-or-treaters, be it a rocket stabilizer or a self-driving car.

Credits due, I took these words from Matt Zigler’s book, “3 Modes of Making”. I haven’t read the book, simply the title inspired me.

What the “3 modes” fail to capture, though, is the student’s curiosity that motivates the effort in the first place, that pushes students to walk the long path to Imitate, Modify and Innovate.  Each child has their own passion, and that’s what fuels excellence.  We adults need to be careful to keep that enthusiasm alive, to push for new insights across disciplines.  Have you ever caught yourself trying to Innovate, skipping the steps to Imitate and Modify?  If so, did you end up with grandiose words, or with true Innovation?

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