Look in the hills of the Front Range and you’ll find crystals like quartz and shiny minerals like laminated sheets of mica. Up the Big Thompson and St. Vrain, my kids and I know caves lined with them. Take quartz home and chuck it in the rock tumbler for a couple days and you’ve got a pearlescent stone perfect for school show and tell. But find a geode and you’ve got a dragon egg. There is nothing like cracking open a drab rock and seeing the insides shimmer. This activity from Connections Academy will help you make your own.
This is Scribot. Gaze upon the vertically inserted pen, its tiny programmable board in the front/left, the wheels, the batteries, the breadboards. Can you guess what it does? Don’t worry, at the end of this post you’ll see it in action. For now, you may notice that Scribot doesn’t come with a flashy exoskeleton branded with characters from your child’s favorite television program. That’s because Scribot is not a consumer product, but a tool created by Dr. Karl Wendt to teach design thinking in classrooms. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because Wendt was Khan Academy’s “Maker in Chief”, where his projects include Spider Bot, and Spout Bot, and Bit-zee Bot.
You may by now be noticing a pattern. Karl builds robots. Not only does Karl build robots, but he wants to teach you and yours how to build robots. And even beyond teaching you and yours to build robots, Karl wants to teach teachers how the principles of design thinking can be used in classrooms to help students build robots. That was his mission at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and that’s the mission of his Nashville-based nonprofit, Discover Create Advance.
I’m more science geek than technology geek, but lately I’ve been doing my best — learning how to solder and code by building SparkFun kits along with my kids (6 and 8), first the WeevilEye, then Herbie the little mouse kit and now into the world of Arduino. (My daughter, Kestrel, bounces off furniture and people and walls as if she were the cue ball of a billiards trick shot, but she’ll sit and solder for a straight hour.) What this means is that instead of looking at soldering kits from the perspective of an electrical engineer who, I’m sure, sees these kits as simple teaching tools, I’m completely flabbergasted along with my kids when Herbie hits a wall and his electrical whiskers make the mouse turn. Wow! When we reach the great moment of flipping the switch to “on,” my armpits sweat.
Since the 1970s, when it became cheaper to buy a new color TV than it was to fix the old one, we’ve lived in a throwaway culture. That’s what Mark Frauenfelder, Boing Boing creator, Editor and Chief of Make Magazine and Boulder native told an audience at the Colorado Association of Libraries 2014 conference yesterday. I was on a panel at the conference and was lucky enough to sneak over to Mark’s talk.
Mark said that 100 years ago, 80 percent of Americans were natural makers – we lived on farms and had to create the things we needed. Then there was the Great Making Lull (GML) of the 1970s through early 2000s, when the perfect storm of desire, access to inexpensive research and development tools, prototyping materials, funding sources like Kickstarter, access to manufacturing like 3D printers, laser cutters etc. and DIY sales channels came together to lower the barrier to entry to innovation and making.