Interviews

Interview with Marvin Hall the creator of the Robotics summer program "Lego Yuh Mind"

Written by Xavier Murphy

This Month we do 10 questions with the Marvin Hall the creator of the Robotics summer program “Lego Yuh Mind”. Marvin is the brainchild behind Halls of Learning, a Math teacher and former lecturer in Educational Technology at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica.

Q: Marvin what drove you to start a lab on Robotics in Jamaica and “Lego Yuh Mind” programme?

Marvin: What we have started are after-school robotics workshops. The driving force behind starting this programme was a trip to Singapore in 2002, where I saw primary school children demonstrating robotic zoos they had created and programming robots to race against each other. All this was done with the Lego Mindstorms robotics kit. I realized that we would never be on par with the rest of world if we did expose our children these activities. This ignited my mission to bring robotics to the education system in Jamaica.

Q: What are some of the other programmes you do the expose Jamaican students to “Robotics”? I know you are based in Kingston. Do you also reach out the rural students?

Marvin: We have a summer programme during July that offers children the opportunity to do an intensive 1-week course (30 hours) in robotics. This July, the courses are being offered as a part of Creations Lab, July 4-29, 2005, which also offers courses in digital music, 3D animation and video game programming. We plan to acquire mobile labs that will allow us to reach some rural areas next year.

Q: In the past you have entered a few of your students in Robotics competitions in the US. How was that experience for the students? Do you plan to continue doing this?

Marvin: The students have a had a fantastic time. It allowed them the opportunity to realize that the knowledge and skills they have developed have global applications and that they are among the best in the world. We will continue to do this but our greater aim is to start our own robotics exhibition/competition in Jamaica.

Q: What has been your biggest obstacle in starting this program and how have you overcome those obstacles and challenges?

Marvin: The biggest obstacle, of the many, would be acquiring the computing resources and lab space to facilitate the programme. I have overcome this obstacle by partnering with the schools that are leaders in their technology programmes and have a vision to host this type of learning activity for their students.

Q: What is the goal of the lab? What do you expect as an outcome for the students who attend the labs?

Marvin: The programme is designed to excite kids about math, science and art through the use of technology. The surface goal is that the students have fun, while being engaged in a stimulating, hands-on learning activity. Some of the expected outcomes are that the students develop problem-solving skills, critical thinking, learn simple computer programming and enhance their creativity while learning to collaborate with each other.

Q: Do you provide any type of sponsorship or relief for the less fortunate children who are interested in attending the lab? If not do you plan to in the future?

Marvin: At Halls of learning we believe that every child, regardless of background, must be given access to high quality experiences in learning. For our summer programme last year, Digi-School, that offered courses in robotics and digital music, we awarded 8 scholarships to inner-city students that covered the tuition, transportation and lunch. With help of Vickers One Corporation and the National Commercial Bank, for Creations Lab this July, we have awarded 100 such scholarships to our various courses.

Q: Some say scientists are a dying breed in the West especially among people of colour. What are your thoughts on the field of science in the Caribbean?

Marvin: I think that we need to do more to nurture the new generation of inventors, risk-takers and out-of-the-box thinkers. We have to “de-program” the minds that have been taught to conform to a singular way of being, and instead program those minds to find their uniqueness by more experimenting and exposure to various forms of stimulation.

The science field in the Caribbean is very far from its potential, with even our best minds still being exported to make contributions to Europe and North America. We must become committed to creating the environment in the Caribbean that will keep our best scientists here, and attract the best in the world to this environment.

Q: Tell us about Halls of Learning?

Marvin: Halls of Learning is a Jamaican based organization dedicated to empowering the lives of people through education, by providing educational workshops and selling educational products. Inspired in part by Marcus Garvey’s actions as a ‘man of learning’, we are committed to providing the highest quality educational experiences for young people, equal to, or exceeding international standards.

We will create the future that we want for our children and are dedicated to our role in inspiring the learning revolution.

Q: Do you think the Caribbean education system providing students with the highest education? How would you fix it?

Marvin: I do not think that Caribbean education system provides ALL students with the highest education. This is only true for a few, and this fortunate few are mostly exported to higher learning in Europe and
North America and end up building those economies instead of ours. I would fix this by creating learning environments that:

1. Nurture the best and brightest majority of children
2. Attract the best and brightest teachers
3. Retain the best and brightest human resources to build our nations

Q: You have been referred to by some as a new breed of “educator”, a freelancer and innovator who used all the tools necessary to achieve the goal of providing higher education. Do you think this is a correct characterization?

Marvin: If I fell in love with teaching, became a trained teacher, pursued higher learning, taught in the inner-city, continually pursuing professional development, taught teachers about technology, pursued and partnered with the best educational minds and institutions, left the formal classroom to strive for my visions of education and inspired a learning revolution, and for this was labeled as a new breed, freelancer, innovator it might be a correct characterization. As outstanding as I might be considered, it would not be sufficient until I inspire, and draw out, more like me in the greatest numbers.

Q: On behalf of Jamaians.com thanks for providing us with this interview. Do you have any Closing thoughts for the reader at Jamaicans.com and the students out there who are thinking of going in this field of study?

Marvin: Whatever your field of study, make sure you love it. Act in spite of fear, take the risk and immerse yourself in whatever you believe in. You will not find your passion without exploration. Most importantly, believe in yourself at all costs. Some say that the most powerful force on earth is knowing how to be yourself. Five specific points for the students would be:

1. Keep on learning and never think you know enough
2. Develop your logic, critical thinking and problem-solving skills
3. Find a procedure to learn anything in the way that suits you best
4. Maintain your enthusiasm from failure to failure, and learn from your mistakes
5. Collaborate with, and value the opinions, ideas and expressions of the community of learners around you.

If robots are taking over the world, wouldn’t you want to learn to control them?

Check out Robotics summer program “Lego Yuh Mind” at the Halls of Learning website.

Also check out their video on Youtube.com

About the author

Xavier Murphy