What Made the 5 Excellent Mentors Successful in the MakeX Spark-Smart Lights Online Competition?

Despite the constraints in the pandemic, we are amazed to see so many mentors working hard to keep students learning and developing through MakeX Spark Online Competition. And among them, there are 5 Excellent Mentors who achieved great success in bringing quite a few outstanding students in the 1st match. Following this article, you will figure out what pushes them to succeed.


a) Mentor Grace Cai & Harrison Lavins


Mentor Grace and Harrison are both from Michigan Youth Empowerment Foundation (mYe), a non-profit foundation established to promote STEAM programs and empower young people to thrive in the new technological world. Grace is the Founder and Executive Director of mYe and Harrison serves as the instructor of the Halocode Class at mYe. They made a great team in the 1st match of MakeX Spark, mentoring 24 kids and helping 18 of them win an award. What are the secrets of their remarkable achievements?



According to Grace and Harrison, it all boiled down to 3 points as follows.

  1. Allocate enough time for preparation and develop a weekly training plan.
  2. Let students take the lead while mentors only guide as needed.
  3. Remind students each week of their goals and set clear deadlines for each task.

Based on the competition guide, they developed a 9-week plan for each student with detailed instruction so they can clearly understand what they need to focus on each week. This plan not only allowed adequate time for research and prototyping, but also included the training on poster design, public speaking and video production. During the preparation, they only provided guidance for kids as it’s very important to let students take the lead and ownership of their projects. “Each of the 24 projects are totally different because students’ creativity and imagination are all unique,” Grace explained to us. “Time management skills were also very important in ensuring the students were able to finish and dedicate enough time to prepare a strong project. One of the biggest roles of the mentor was to clearly communicate the tasks that the student needed to accomplish, as well as the order in which the student needed to complete it by.” Harrison added. That’s why they developed a weekly student task document with clear deadlines for when they should plan to finish each task. Usually it takes reminding the student a few times and putting the goals in writing for them to remember what they need to accomplish.


b) Mentor Antonius Juniadhi Soekendar


Mr. Antonius works for Bina Bangsa School Semarang as an IT teacher. He has mentored 30+ teams for MakeX competitions since 2018. This year, he sent 7 teams to MakeX Spark Online Competition and 6 of them were awarded, including a Young All-Rounder winner. Teaching and preparing kids online during the pandemic is very hard. But Antonius refused to back down from this challenge. He knew that students’ commitment and mentor’s support are the two major factors at play. So, the first step he took was to give motivation and encouragement to kids and chose some who really have good commitment and great passion for the competition. To provide full support, Antonius set up a WhatsApp group for communication and offered to give his students one-on-one tutoring every day after school besides a weekly class in school, so as to make sure they can ask him whenever they had problems with their projects. You might wonder why Antonius would love to spend extra time on MakeX Spark. In his own words, “Kids feel hard at the very beginning, but I trust in their ability and creativity. I’m proud to see their growing up in creative thinking and innovation with my support and motivation.”


c)Mentor Shawn Yap Shaw Wann


Mentor Shawn is a robotics hobbyist with over 10 years of exploration into robotics and coding. He set up his own robotics and coding learning center in Malaysia in 2012. He started to lead teams in various national and international competitions in 2016. MakeX Spark Online Competition became their target this time. It took them 10 weeks for the competition. Shawn started with an introduction of the theme – Smart Lights and provided some example ideas to students. Then, he gave them 2 weeks to brainstorm for the competition and came up with an idea first. After 2 weeks, Shawn had a meeting to discuss their projects and decide whose idea was potential and creative enough to participate in MakeX Spark. The next 2 weeks was the period for them to finalize and make their project idea more complete. At the same time, students needed to do the draft coding to make sure that the idea can be performed via programming. Lastly, they used 1 month for construction, testing, adjustment, and the poster report.



In the course of the competition, Shawn thought the most difficult part was to have a new and creative idea. He tried to give students some ready projects or ideas, and request them to think out of the boxes. During the discussion period, he allowed students to give any special and virtual idea. And his role as a mentor was to make their ideas more logical, practical, and applicable. He also shared an interesting point of MakeX Spark, “I found that the MakeX Spark is a competition that requires comprehensive skills and abilities from participants. My students are not afraid of coding, electronics usage, and all technical problems. However, they are headache with the poster and project design. This is good for them to realize that they are less focused on ‘Arts’ in STEAM education. And there were lots of jokes and interesting scenes when they are designing their projects and poster.”


d) Mentor Baik Ji Seon


Ms. Baik Ji Seon is the Director of BEYOND CODING, a private STEM education institute located in the center of Seoul. BEYOND has won lots of official robotics awards in the last three and a half years. She feels so thrilled to add MakeX to their new trophy lists. Actually, this was their first trial of MakeX. Even though they didn’t have enough time to prepare due to the coronavirus, they did a really good job. All 4 students she mentored won a special award in the Spark competition. Wouldn’t you know it, right after they kicked off “Make X Class”, the Korean government forced all private education institutes to shut down for 2 weeks due to COVID-19. Consequently, they had only 4 weeks in total to prepare for this competition. You must be surprised by how they did it.



Well, for one thing, her students already have 1-year coding competition experiences like Python and Robotics competitions, so they fully understand how to prepare in the way of computational thinking. Also, Ji Seon did her best to encourage kids to feel the fun during the process. For another, she received huge support from SuperTrack with experienced teachers and cutting-edge equipment after the break. In the last week before the deadline, she spent almost 5~6 hours with students only for MakeX Spark. We heard a fascinating story there, “Since kids were very behind the schedule, all of them worked late until 10 pm. One day, a 7-year-old boy suddenly cried as he was so sleepy and tired, and we were so worried that he would give up. However, the day after, he came to our center and said that ‘It was so hard yesterday, but it is so much fun’ with a big smile.” Kids are too young to follow this tight schedule, but they pride themselves on their ability and willpower during the process.


“Nothing is difficult if you put your heart into it.” This is what all these Excellent Mentors are trying to tell us. What else have you learned from them for the 2nd match? Feel free to discuss it in the comments.

November 10, 2020





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