Nick Spencer is the man behind Smart Fun - an education company that brings out the engineer in every young student by using Lego bricks. And who doesn't love playing around with Lego!
Welcome to the ajarn hot seat Nick. First off is Smart Fun a franchise that you bought into or is it something you started up yourself?
Smart Fun is a business I started myself. I worked with engineers and educators alike to refine the curriculum. I knew that the growing demand for STEM education in Thailand presented an opportunity.
For those not familiar with it, Stem Education is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.
So what about your background Nick. It seems that you're both an educator and a man with a technical background?
That's correct. I got my Master's Degree in Architecture after returning from a two-year stint in Thailand teaching English. I always wanted to start my own business, so I decided to teach kids about what I know best through a medium they love and understand: LEGO.
What has always been your own specialty when it comes to design and engineering. What kind of large or small scale projects do you enjoy most?
Back in the States, I worked on mostly small-scale residential remodel projects.
OK, let's talk about Smart Fun the company. Give us a brief summary of what you do with the kids in one of your after-school sessions?
The enrichment hour is a time when the kids are often worn out from a long day at school. We boost the energy level with fun LEGO projects that can be modified, supersized and re-designed. Kids complete in challenges and participate in constructive play.
What do the kids take away from a Smart Fun session?
Real life engineering fundamentals are introduced and reinforced as the course unfolds. The kids learn about patience, persistence and how to work in teams. Our projects also develop fine-motor skills.
I can just imagine the kids not wanting to go home. Is it hard when it comes to time to clean up?
You're absolutely right about the kids begging their parents and teachers to stay. Clean up is usually ten minutes of controlled chaos but we have tricks to speed up the process and make it competitive and fun.
Funny enough, when I was back in the UK in September, my brother was selling a whole load of Lego on E-bay because his two kids had outgrown it. It's expensive stuff. It holds its price. And Smart Fun has got 100,000 pieces! That's some financial outlay and I'm guessing that you have to keep adding to it as new Lego designs come out?
LEGO is among elite company when it comes to brand value. The quality of the materials is so high that some of the pieces in our kits are older than me at age 31!
While the investment was sizable, the returns are good because the materials last virtually forever. The majority of our kit is LEGO technic elements, but we have decorations and mini figures that we will need to keep current as the years go by or the kids will become dissatisfied.
Where do you hold Smart Fun classes and typically how long is one session?
Weekday after school classes are held on campus at various international schools around Bangkok. Sessions are typically an hour long from 3-4 pm. We also do in-home 90-minute private lessons at evenings and weekends.
I noticed that apart from top-tier international schools, you've also got a foothold in one of Thailand's best-known private language school chains. These 'Lego classes' are obviously creating a buzz?
That's right, we've partnered with Inlingua School of Languages to deliver our services to a new network of school clients. Inlingua and its competitors are catching on to the "activity-based learning" trend.
If I owned a kids school and wanted Smart Fun to come and do a session at my location, what's my part of the bargain? What do I have to provide or guarantee you?
All we need to do a class is an air-conditioned room with a clean floor and a few tables. We can handle group sizes of up to 30 kids. Since every school partner does business with their parent families differently, we just charge the schools an agreed upon fee. Typically, it is a price per student per class.
Tell us a little about the Smart Fun teachers. You're quite a small but expanding team at the moment I believe?
Currently there is myself working full time and one other part time teacher who has been with us since January. We need teachers with early afternoon availability to help us meet growing demand!
Does a Smart Fun teacher need to have an engineering background? What kind of person are you looking for to conduct sessions?
An engineering background is not required, but would be a major plus for interested applicants. We're looking for energetic teachers who know how to work with youngsters age 5-13.
Thanks a lot Nick. For more information about Smart Fun go to www.smartfunasia.com