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Interview #9: Super Awesome Sylvia
At the age of fifteen, Sylvia Todd could be considered one of the most exciting voices at the forefront of the Maker Movement.
Since launching her ‘Super Awesome Sylvia’ YouTube channel at the age of eight, her videos have received millions of views from school aged children and adults alike. In her tutorials, Sylvia passionately encourages viewers to explore science and robotics through hands-on projects and activities.
One of her most renowned inventions, the WaterColorBot, transforms digital artwork into an actual watercolour painting by moving a robotic arm and paint brush across a canvas.
In this month’s feature, Sylvia sits down with two students from Brisbane Boys Grammar at EduTech to share her insights on the maker movement, educating millennials, and the value that hands-on activities such as making, creating and tinkering can add to this new generation of minds.
Hello Sylvia, how did you get started with the maker movement and how did you end up at this year’s EduTech?
When I was around eight years old I started making my own YouTube show and it started getting really popular. People started noticing it and ever since then I’ve been able to travel a lot. Some people asked me to come and talk about my experiences, and one of those places people wanted me to speak at was EduTech in Australia.
As someone passionate about making and creating, how important do you think it is for other students to get involved?
Making and creating, and doing things hands-on really inspires people to learn in different ways. It helps them have a new mindset towards these sorts of things so including that in education can really increase people’s creativity.
You engage your viewers really well, helping them see the fun and value in making and creating. Can you tell us a little bit about your approach to teaching?
What I try and do is make it as fun as possible. It’s not just lots of lectures and talking about things for too long which makes it boring. I always try and have open projects so that not everybody is making the exact same thing - they can then make it personal and be creative.
Is there a difficult learning curve with a lot of your projects or do you structure them so that anyone can come in at any skill level?
It’s a little bit of both, it really depends on what you want to learn.
If you want to do something bigger that includes a lot of coding then you’ll have to learn how to code, and there’s a huge learning curve. But honestly, once you’ve learned something useful like coding, you can use it in tonnes of other things and it’s really helpful. It just depends on the project that you want to start.
Have you received a lot of attention from the community because of your online popularity?
In the maker community yes, but other than that it’s not a big deal. It seems like in the maker spaces that I’ve gone to, more people are recognising me more often, which is both a good and bad thing. Honestly, I don’t like being so popular but at the same time being noticed for making is really great because hopefully that’ll inspire more people.
What’s been your favourite acknowledgement you’ve received for your projects?
Two years ago, I started a project for a robotics competition, and a week before someone who was connected to the White House asked if I wanted to come to their science fair. I agreed and was in the robotics room where President Obama ended up in. I wasn't actually prepared for meeting him and that was exciting.
I made the WaterColorBot, a watercolour painting robot. I entered it into the Art Robotics competition in the RoboGames and I actually won second place.
Is making and creating accessible to most students or does it come with a high price tag?
I usually use affordable products and I try not to use a lot of expensive parts.
When I’m using something like a CNC Cutter, those are really expensive and I don’t have one of my own, so I’ll go to a Makerspace or another company that has one like Evil Mad Scientist Labs. They’re a small, homegrown company and we’re really good friends with them, so whenever I want to start building a project I’ll go to them to use their tools.
For all of my other projects, I use really small and low priced tools.
What are your thoughts on teachers attending conferences like EduTech to learn about the latest trends in education?
I think events like EduTech are really important. By having so many teachers and people from schools come here and experience this sort of making atmosphere, it will really help to improve education. It’s international and there’s so many people here from different places so when they go back home they can spread this information and inspiration.
I also think it’s really great when students attend because then the teachers get their point of view too, as sometimes they don’t get to hear what students think.
Since launching her ‘Super Awesome Sylvia’ Youtube channel at the age of eight, Sylvia Todd has become one of the most exciting voices at the forefront of the Maker Movement.
Her video tutorials have received millions of views from school aged children and adults alike, encouraging them to make and create.
Since launching the 'In Conversation' series in 2015, we now have a collection of interviews to present, with more arriving each month!
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