Minjae and I share a lot of things: we like playing with LEGO blocks, we love to make things with our hand, and most importantly, we are both aspiring engineers of our age.
Minjae started making robots with simple kits since he was 10 years old—a young age to start such an activity, compared to my experience since I started robotics in my first year of high school. He could only make really simple robots at first: the robot basically moved around with no other function, and he hadn’t even programmed that by himself. As time passed, though, he began making robots with more complex movements, such as making beep sounds and moving along a more complicated path.
As I was also learning more and more about robotics as he was, I rejoiced at the fact that my brother could experience such a creative activity at his age. I was sure that he would enjoy his days at the robotics lesson, because he had had so much fun making new things with LEGO blocks and I thought that those robotics lessons were great for him to do those things. Also, he would learn new skills from a professional and, ultimately, be good at this!
One day, when I went home for the weekend from my dorm, Minjae suddenly said to me that he didn’t enjoy his lessons anymore. ‘Oh gosh, this is something serious,’ I thought, and I sat down with him, trying to talk about what the problem was. And the problem came from a rather unexpected place: he couldn’t make the robots that he wanted to make. At first when I heard this, I thought it was because he lacked the skills to make the really complex robots that he wanted to make, but that couldn’t be true! He attended this program for more than a year and I saw him build wonderful robots.
It was the lack of room for creativity—in the program, the teachers were so obsessed with following the directions in the instruction packet. Yes, the students would develop some kind of skill, connecting channels and handling tools, but how can they build a robot if they don’t know what they want to make?
Almost every program for gifted students in Korea contain the word “creative” in their names. Here I want to raise a question, “how much room do you actually give these students to come up with something, design it, and actually make it?” People are so obsessed with being “creative”, but they’re abusing the word for a completely unoriginal and non-creative education.
As a student who was previously educated through “cramming”, I feel that robotics is an activity where you can truly shine with creativity: creating a robot out of nothing requires you to think of what you want to make, how you would design it, and building it. Whenever I discuss mechanisms with my dear teammates, I am grateful for the fact that something in my head is created in the reality, and that I can apply the things I learned to make something I really want.
This reminds me of a question I was asked last year when I got to talk at a talk concert with Korean high school students: “When you watch robot movies like the Transformers or the Pacific Rim, do you laugh at those absurd robots or do you feel inspired by them?” Without doubt I answered that I am awed by all of those robots. The response was a laughter from the crowd: they must have guessed that since I make practical robots for competitions, I don’t think of flying, transforming robots as importantly. The truth is, I don’t care how pragmatic those robots are—I mean, they save the world from evil alien robots! Isn’t that practical enough?—but I get surprised at the imaginations of the creators of the film. Technology has developed so much that we can make almost anything that we imagine into a real object—who knows there will really be flying and transforming robots in a few decades?
Creativity, even though people try to stress it now and then, is being overlooked in many places. I resent at my brother’s failure, but this gave me a chance to look back at what I’m doing in the robotics team and a chance to appreciate the opportunities for realizing my imaginations.
This blog post was written by Anne Kil from FTC Team 8338 Shatterdome from South Korea. If you are interested in writing a blog post for FIRST Ladies, sign up on the schedule.