Big Ideas: “Engage many more girls in STEM with 3D printing and design” with Jon Soong, CEO of Makers Empire

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Soong. Jon is the CEO of Makers Empire, a global EdTech company based in Australia. Makers Empire is an Australian EdTech company helping to prepare K-8 kids with the skills, dispositions […]

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Soong. Jon is the CEO of Makers Empire, a global EdTech company based in Australia. Makers Empire is an Australian EdTech company helping to prepare K-8 kids with the skills, dispositions and mindsets they’ll need to succeed in the future. Makers Empire was recently the subject of a 12-month Macquarie University research study into primary school makerspaces and the results were compelling, showing significant learning benefits for students and teachers. Moreoever, Common Sense Education recently ranked Makers Empire second in their Best EdTech of 2018 List, out of 180 EdTech products reviewed and considered.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

So many things! Seeing the learning and problem solving young kids can achieve with Makers Empire keeps me inspired and grateful. We’ve had children solve problems for people within their own school communities

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Teaching Design Thinking, STEM and 21st-century skills to elementary, primary and middle school students via 3D printing and design

Makers Empire’s complete solutions for schools include easy to use 3D design software, lesson plans, professional development and training for teachers, resources and ongoing support.

Elementary, primary and middle school educators use Makers Empire to teach students:

  1. How to solve real-world problems with Design Thinking. Design Thinking is a way of thinking and working that helps us to define and solve problems. It is a non-linear, iterative and human-centred process that helps us to reframe problems as opportunities.
  2. STEM subjects in a fun and engaging way.
  3. 21st-century learning skills like Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Citizenship.

How do you think this will change the world?

With Makers Empire:

  1. Students are positioned as creators, problem solvers and innovators. They learn that they have the ability to help themselves and the people around them. They develop entrepreneurial behaviours and mindsets.
  2. We can encourage more girls to take up a STEM career. Girls need to have a positive STEM experience in elementary/primary school to consider STEM subjects in high school and then a STEM-related course at college, which is a pathway to a STEM career. Without this early, positive experience in STEM, girls can easily choose other career paths.
  3. Students develop a Growth Mindset, persistence and resilience as they learn that ‘mistakes’ are merely part of the Design Thinking cycle.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

No. In our highly dynamic world, we’re going to need people who can empathise with others, think ‘outside the box’ and find new ways of doing things. Simply doing what has been done before won’t be good enough — those that can’t continue to innovate and evolve will be left behind.

Design Thinking is one of the best things we can teach our students so that they can identify and solve problems and make their world better.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

Makers Empire 3D software was conceived when Australian games designer and university friend Roland Peddie noticed the creativity and problem-solving abilities displayed by video games players when customising game characters. After attending university in Adelaide, Roland worked at Ratbag Games, and then in Scotland with Realtime Worlds where he won a BAFTA for his work on the Xbox 360 title, Crackdown.

While working on a PC title, All Points Bulletin, Roland became intrigued by the impressive designs that players created using the game’s simple design tools. Upon his return to Australia, Roland built an early version of the current Makers Empire 3D software and showed it to his then 4YO daughter, Ebony.

Encouraged by Ebony’s response, Roland showed his software to me. I had been working in software development at IBM, Internode and the Royal Adelaide Hospital and I was also a father. I immediately saw the learning potential of Roland’s software and showed it to my wife, an educator, who helped us organise a trial of the software with a class of grade six students. Our instincts were confirmed when they saw the quality and complexity of the designs the students were able to create with Roland’s intuitive design interface.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

Makers Empire is somewhat dependent on 3D printing hardware and there are a few key challenges remaining to be solved:

– Speed

– Quality

– Reliability

– Full color

– Dis-solvable support

Many printers have one or two of these features, but none have all — today’s 3D printers are similar to dot-matrix paper printers. They’re waiting for the ‘inkjet’ and ‘laser’ revolutions.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn,” Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock.

Teaching young students design thinking helps them develop a growth mindset and important problem solving, analytical and spatial thinking skills. So we equip educators with the tools, knowledge and support they need to embrace creativity and making in education for improved student performance, engagement and learning.

Benefits for young people who engage in design thinking include:

• Being able to identify problems and reframe them as actionable opportunities;
• Understanding the value of collaboration and feedback;
• Viewing setbacks and failures as valuable learning moments;
• Appreciating the value of hard work and persistence;
• Developing self-belief as problem solvers;
• Developing empathy;
• Developing a growth mindset;
• Developing stamina and resilience; and
• Developing entrepreneurial and community-minded behaviours.
• A focus that is both future and solutions-oriented

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

I’d invest it in Makers Empire!

(3D printing is 110% coming and will be a major industry over the next 1–30 years — but who will make it up the slope of enlightenment first is not clear.)

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

An important principle i’ve learned from one of my co-founders is: try to find people who are better than you to work with or for you.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Keep things in perspective.

Exercise helps keep a positive mindset.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

3D printing is where computing was in 1982 as it transitioned from a specialized, big business technology (mainframes, mini-computers) to a widely available technology (personal computers). The main driver of this was easy-to-use software — software that would allow everyone from accountants to students to get value from computers. At Makers Empire, we’re building the world’s easiest to use 3D software.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@makersmpire on Twitter and Facebook

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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