This Cannot Be Taught,

Only Retained Within Children

The Fibonacci Sequence is the most beautiful mathematical example that shows how theory and nature are interlinked. Ákos Lipóczki from the Department of Subject Creation at MOME (Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest) speaks about how students of MOME and students of Budapest School have worked together in an experiment for multiple weeks to s

The Fibonacci numbers – first discovered in the 12th century while deciphering the mysteries of Sanskrit poetry – are a sequence of numbers that has 0 as its zeroth element, 1 as its first, and the rest of the sequence is produced by the sum of the previous two numbers. Thus, the first few elements of the sequence go as follows: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34. This chain of numbers shows a few beautiful principles. The numbers can form the Fibonacci Spiral, which shows the proportions of the golden ratio – this has allowed artists to use mathematical methods to work out natural esthetics in detail for centuries. These patterns appear in nature apart from pieces of art. Pinecones, pineapple scales, raspberries, and even the head of the cauliflower carries the pattern of the Fibonacci Spiral. But what do a bunch of university students and a dozen of teenagers want to do with all this? And why does an academic lecturer give up professorship in order to hold a workshop for both university and primary school students? We asked Ákos Lipóczki in the recently delivered, new and futuristic campus of MOME, which has been filled with happy children’s noise every Friday in the past three months.

Why did you start a course for both children and university students at the same time?

Following the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) method, we have worked in numerous different university projects before. We wanted to combine creative work with mathematical structures and opportunities given by technology. We were taking already prepared syllabi to primary schools, where we made joint subject projects into reality. However, these were only pre-framed, shorter tasks. Then came one of the founders of Budapest School with the suggestion that we should collaborate by completing an entire process with the help of children and university students. Also, that we should cease hierarchy and replace it with collective craftsmanship.

What does such a process look like? What makes it special?

During the design thinking process, we follow a well-structured timetable where participants have the opportunity at any time to control the creative content according to their own interest and creative thoughts. We start by preparing a mind map: we do some brainstorming together, collect data for our work, and this long preparatory period which takes weeks finally ends in the beginning of creation. This is what we see now: it is already the reward challenge, but we consciously build up everything beforehand.

The Fibonacci numbers have inspired many throughout centuries. What was the aim of the workshop in your case?

Everything had to do with a mathematical background. We only created things which included Fi-mathematics. This is why after the long preparation, they do not simply create freely but make constant calculations and assessments. We started having the golden ratio gradually appear on every product. Every brick contains a Fi-proportion system. They work in small groups – everyone on their own project – so at the end, it may all come together on a model board as “Fi City”.

The real product is actually a demonstrative education tool. This is why it is important to deconstruct and then reconstruct everything we have made, so they can later explain to other children through their creations what Fi-mathematics actually is. It is what makes this process so special. Children learn and create to enable other children to learn from it later on.

To what extent did you involve children in the process, and how much did it influence your original plans?

I am used to a certain pace we had been following with university students which did not include children. Their presence is an immensely creative and free inspirational source, and a constantly changing variable at the same time. We achieved our goals much slower than anticipated before, therefore we had to adjust our own process to the children’s dynamics along the way.

Was there any moment when you experienced differences between how a child’s mind and an adult’s mind work during a creative process?

During one game, they had to think about what they could create using a mud brick. After every 10 ideas, they received a thaler. In my experience, it is incredibly difficult to think of new things after 30. The children reached 50 without realizing it. They all had completely different, twisted ideas uncommon for university students or actual designers. And of course, creativity sometimes ended up in mischief. During one game, we were building plaster figures. We had previously covered everything using foil blankets and had covered the children’s clothes using trash bags to keep them from dirt. Despite all these precautions, they were covered in plaster by the end. The girls even started applying makeup using the colored plaster. They invented countless things no one would have thought about. Meanwhile, we were building triangle-shaped grid structures and pouring colored plaster into balloons. Balloons make strange, amorphous shapes in these grid structures made of sticks. Three people were pulling and pressing it at the same time, and by the time the plaster became solid, statues for Fi City’s public square had already been made.

hey all had completely different, twisted ideas uncommon for university students or actual designers.
hey all had completely different, twisted ideas uncommon for university students or actual designers.

At the beginning of the creative workshop, you explicitly told the children that you were the lead designer, the university students were responsible for the use of materials, and the children were employees of a designer company. During the process, how much of the work was planned by the children and how much by you? How much did your designer’s goal change in the meantime?

This is a form of design jamming, which has a lot of new branches. Despite this, I managed to stay by my original plans. It is important for children to see that there are rules. Creations must stand statically, the nodes must be specified, and the joined materials must be justified. The groups work with various materials: cardboard, metal plates, balsa wood, flexible aluminum wires, bamboo rods, and foil. These materials all need to be treated differently, and we must show them. I saw the final goal prominently all along, but the creation was changing during the process. All I wanted was to build a characteristic, aesthetic Fi City that looks cool, progressive, and consists of districts created by the small groups.

What was the role of mentors during the process?

AI asked the children to imagine a situation where they apply for internship as adults at a designer company. I said that mentors would be the ones to give them instructions on what materials to use and what to build. They teach small tricks to children about polishing, folding, gluing, etc. The proper use of materials is essential for creativity to shine. Mentors give constant support and encouragement to them. The children often believed at first that they are unable to do certain creative processes, only to later prove they could do magic. I refuse to believe that this is a digital generation which cannot use their hands. We must give them the tools and materials, show how to use them, and they start creation within minutes.

The proper use of materials is essential for creativity to shine.
The proper use of materials is essential for creativity to shine.
I refuse to believe that this is a digital generation which cannot use their hands. We must give them the tools and materials, show how to use them, and they start creation within minutes.

Your current project was based on the use of analog devices. How could this be combined with digital learning?

In the future, we intend to build a digital world upon this module. For instance, we could model objects from Fi-mathematics which we later build with our own hands. Or we could create an analog model for digital modifications after scanning it, which we later build or create using a 3D printer. It would also be exciting to experiment with digital commands using our hands (like rotating), which we then render digitally as well.

You completed a process with children that you normally do with university students. What do you think, are those graduating soon ready to be part of such creative activities?

If someone decides to become a designer or a designer maker at the age of 17-18 without practicing beforehand, it is much more difficult to develop. If they start thinking about such problems at the age of 6-8, then they may eventually develop into a creative designer character who realizes problems and finds solutions by thinking freely. It is often the realization of problems that is missing. This cannot be taught, only retained within children.

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