The Next Phase of the Maker Movement? Building Startups

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The Next Phase of the Maker Movement? Building Startups
Zainab Oni, speaking at the Mouse 20th-anniversary event

“Everything that is old is new again!” Daniel Rabuzzi exclaims, his eyes light up with excitement that seems to match the glowing, handcrafted flower pinned on his vest. He’s talking about the next wave of the Maker Movement, big news buzzing amongst makers in the inner circle.

Rabuzzi is the executive director of Mouse, a national nonprofit that encourages students to create with technology. The organization, now celebrating 20 years in operation, is part of the worldwide Maker Movement, encouraging students to get creative (and messy) when using technology to build things. Rabuzzi calls his work at Mouse “shop and home economics for the 21st century,” and his students “digital blacksmiths.”

Mouse students showcasing green energy ideas

Rabuzzi, like many experts within the Maker Movement, believes the heavy emphasis on standardized testing in schools, which has pushed the arts, shop and home economics into the shadows, is what spurred outside groups like Mouse to begin hosting alternative makerspaces for students. Throughout the years, Rabuzzi has seen the movement evolve. Most recently, he’s seen technology become more directly integrated with making, along with an uptick of women in leadership.

“It can’t just be the boys tinkering in the basement anymore,” says Rabuzzi, pointing to women in maker leadership, like littleBits founder Ayah Bdeir, who encouraged more young girls to enter the space.

Now Rabuzzi, along with makers, investors, and journalists, are buzzing about what they describe as the next wave of making: the Maker economy, which many believe will transform manufacturing the United States by integrating with the Internet of Things (IOT), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI).

“There is all this talk about bringing back manufacturing to America, and I feel like this is going to come back on a local level,” says Juan Garzon, former Mouse student, who started his hardware company. He believes that personalized goods designed and manufactured by Makers through mediums like 3D printing will drive the return of domestic manufacturing.

“The future of manufacturing is not a big plant, but someone designing what they want and developing custom made things. It sounds so sci-fi, but it is within my lifetime,” continues Garzon.

News reports from Chicago Inno show that custom manufacturing designed by makers might be an active part of the domestic economy sooner than Garzon realizes. Inno reports that several Maker-entrepreneur spaces are popping up in the city with hopes to develop places where creators can build scalable products to be manufactured, creating new businesses.

Audience members viewing Mouse student’s VR projects

For many, talk of 3D printing and merging Making with AI are bleeding edge topics, far away from today’s realities. But for technologists supporting Mouse, this the world they want to prepare students to be a part of.

Mouse students at the 20th-anniversary party are already getting started. At the event, some students proudly showed off projects they designed in 3D spaces that can be viewed and altered in virtual reality. Many of the projects students worked on required a mixture of creativity, technical skills and awareness of the societal needs. Displays showcasing green energy projects along with digitalized wearable technology for persons with disabilities were all throughout the room. Still, Rabuzzi imagines more.

He hopes that through making, students can test the limits of new technologies and do good for the society. “How do we use Alexa and Siri in the Maker Movement?” Rabuzzi wonders aloud. He describes his idea of using AI to support students in designing, prototyping and creating new learning pathways in future, but admits that he doesn’t have the funding or technology for such ambitious projects now. He hopes that some of Mouse’s corporate funding partners are interested in supporting the endeavors.

“We are preparing today’s young people for a cyber future,” he explains. “In the old days if you had a clever idea you had to go into a big company to get it done. Now you can make it yourself.”

To Write Better Code, Read Virginia Woolf

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Mountain View, Calif. — THE humanities are kaput. Sorry, liberal arts cap-and-gowners. You blew it. In a software-run world, what’s wanted are more engineers.

At least, so goes the argument in a rising number of states, which have embraced a funding model for higher education that uses tuition “bonuses” to favor hard-skilled degrees like computer science over the humanities. The trend is backed by countless think pieces. “Macbeth does not make my priority list,” wrote Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and the author of a widely shared blog post titled “Is Majoring in Liberal Arts a Mistake for Students?” (Subtitle: “Critical Thinking and the Scientific Process First — Humanities Later”).

The technologist’s argument begins with a suspicion that the liberal arts are of dubious academic rigor, suited mostly to dreamers. From there it proceeds to a reminder: Software powers the world, ergo, the only rational education is one built on STEM. Finally, lest he be accused of making a pyre of the canon, the technologist grants that yes, after students have finished their engineering degrees and found jobs, they should pick up a book — history, poetry, whatever.

As a liberal-arts major who went on to a career in software, I can only scratch my head.

Fresh out of college in 1993, I signed on with a large technology consultancy. The firm’s idea was that by hiring a certain lunatic fringe of humanities majors, it might cut down on engineering groupthink. After a six-week programming boot camp, we were pitched headfirst into the deep end of software development.

My first project could hardly have been worse. We (mostly engineers, with a spritzing of humanities majors) were attached to an enormous cellular carrier. Our assignment was to rewrite its rating and billing system — a thing that rivaled maritime law in its complexity.

I was assigned to a team charged with one of the hairier programs in the system, which concerned the movement of individual mobile subscribers from one “parent” account plan to another. Each one of these moves caused an avalanche of plan activations and terminations, carry-overs or forfeitures of accumulated talk minutes, and umpteen other causal conditionals that would affect the subscriber’s bill.

This program, thousands of lines of code long and growing by the hour, was passed around our team like an exquisite corpse. The subscribers and their parent accounts were rendered on our screens as a series of S’s and A’s. After we stared at these figures for weeks, they began to infect our dreams. (One I still remember. I was a baby in a vast crib. Just overhead, turning slowly and radiating malice, was an enormous iron mobile whose arms strained under the weight of certain capital letters.)

Our first big break came from a music major. A pianist, I think, who joined our team several months into the project. Within a matter of weeks, she had hit upon a method to make the S’s hold on to the correct attributes even when their parent A was changed.

We had been paralyzed. The minute we tweaked one bit of logic, we realized we’d fouled up another. But our music major moved freely. Instead of freezing up over the logical permutations behind each A and S, she found that these symbols put her in the mind of musical notes. As notes, they could be made to work in concert. They could be orchestrated.

On a subsequent project, our problem was pointers. In programming language, a pointer is an object that refers to some master value stored elsewhere. This might sound straightforward, but pointers are like ghosts in the system. A single misdirected one can crash a program. Our pointer wizard was a philosophy major who had no trouble at all with the idea of a named “thing” being a transient stand-in for some other unseen Thing. For a Plato man, this was mother’s milk.

I’ve worked in software for years and, time and again, I’ve seen someone apply the arts to solve a problem of systems. The reason for this is simple. As a practice, software development is far more creative than algorithmic.

The developer stands before her source code editor in the same way the author confronts the blank page. There’s an idea for what is to be created, and the (daunting) knowledge that there are a billion possible ways to go about it. To proceed, each relies on one part training to three parts creative intuition. They may also share a healthy impatience for the ways things “have always been done” and a generative desire to break conventions. When the module is finished or the pages complete, their quality is judged against many of the same standards: elegance, concision, cohesion; the discovery of symmetries where none were seen to exist. Yes, even beauty.

To be sure, each craft also requires a command of the language and its rules of syntax. But these are only starting points. To say that more good developers will be produced by swapping the arts for engineering is like saying that to produce great writers, we should double down on sentence diagraming.

Here the technologists may cry foul, say I’m misrepresenting the argument, that they’re not calling to avoid the humanities altogether, but only to replace them in undergraduate study. “Let college be for science and engineering, with the humanities later.” In tech speak, this is an argument for the humanities as plug-in.

But if anything can be treated as a plug-in, it’s learning how to code. It took me 18 months to become proficient as a developer. This isn’t to pretend software development is easy — those were long months, and I never touched the heights of my truly gifted peers. But in my experience, programming lends itself to concentrated self-study in a way that, say, “To the Lighthouse” or “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” do not. To learn how to write code, you need a few good books. To enter the mind of an artist, you need a human guide.

For folks like Mr. Khosla, such an approach is dangerous: “If subjects like history and literature are focused on too early, it is easy for someone not to learn to think for themselves and not to question assumptions, conclusions, and expert philosophies.” (Where some of these kill-the-humanities pieces are concerned, the strongest case for the liberal arts is made just in trying to read them.)

How much better is the view of another Silicon Valley figure, who argued that “technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”

His name? Steve Jobs.

Why Kids Should Make the Video Games They Love to Play

Mindshift

Screen grab of a coin collecting game created by a middle school student using Gamestar Mechanic.

When educator Lynn Koresh hears from kids that they want a career doing something with computers, she asks, “To do what with computers?”

Adults often encourage kids to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, and computing classes are usually a first stop. But Koresh knows it’s the real-world applications of computational thinking and coding language skills that bring such knowledge to life.

She reasoned that most middle school students are already playing video games and might respond well to a unit on how to design, create, test and promote video games. Along the way, she’s also teaching them about digital citizenship and entrepreneurship.

“I wanted to give kids exposure to what it means to have a career using computers,” said Koresh, technology coordinator at Edgewood Campus School in Madison, Wisconsin.

She gave students the task of designing a game using Gamestar Mechanic. It’s a Web tool that helps kids create games. Before any programming begins, students talk about their games, set objectives and start storyboarding on paper. They think about the game’s avatars and how the game mechanics will work. Koresh shared her experience teaching this class at the Games Learning Society conference in Madison.

As students develop their games, they test them on one another throughout the semester. Koresh has found kids often give short and positive feedback, making it challenging to learn enough to improve the game. She says the kids respond this way mostly because they’re concerned for their friends and worry that they’ll get a bad grade, even though that’s not the case.

“You have to get specific enough so they don’t say, ‘It’s good, I liked it.’ You have to force them to take a stand.”

To help improve the process, she has reframed the questions around student game critiques in a consumer-oriented way, such as, “Would you pay 99 cents for this app? Would you give it three stars or four stars?”

To help them become more critical thinkers, the students read product reviews on blogs and business sites to learn about features that might improve the user experience. In the process, Koresh hopes the kids learn to be selective digital consumers and do research before making purchases or trusting a source.

It’s also an opportunity to talk about a person’s digital footprint and the types of comments, images and videos that can come back to haunt someone.

“If you put it online, it should be worthy of other students, grandma, everyone seeing it,” said Koresh.

Once the games are completed, the middle school students have three seconds to pitch their game to fourth-grade players in the form of a slide on a computer screen. Since time to persuade the audience is limited, much like in real life, game designers have to “sell” their game with one compelling slide. Students have to be selective about which elements of the game to highlight. Creating the slide is also an opportunity to talk about marketing.

“It’s great you’ve made something, but how do you get other people to use it?” Koresh asks her students. They get a good idea about how well their ad has worked based on the number of plays their games receive.

As for whether parents object to kids spending more time on video games, she says they have been supportive of STEM activities and pre-coding skills learned in game design. Koresh has found the time students spent on the games, both inside and outside class, has helped them think about coding as an extracurricular activity. Girls who have created games in her class have gone on to enter STEM design competitions.

Here are some of the ads Koresh’s students created that link to their games:

Dive, Dive, DiveCoin Collecting Game Dive Dive Dive

Those Mondays
Those Mondays game

Plague DustersPlague Dusters

Jewelbots is a smart bracelet designed to get girls coding

TheNextWeb

 by OWEN WILLIAMS Tweet — July 12, 2015

Jewelbots hopes to bring the old-school friendship bracelet into the iPhone age and teach girls to code with its smart jewelry.

The team behind the Kickstarter project — which has already raised double the $30,000 goal — has built an open-source wearable for teen and tween girls to encourage them to learn coding through basic logic.

The bracelets have four LEDs, a vibration motor and Bluetooth connectivity. They connect with each other to form a mesh network, which means a phone isn’t required to communicate with friends.

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Out of the box, a Jewelbot can detect nearby friends and send secret messages, but with simple logic and a few taps it can be extended to do a lot more.

Extending the bracelet is straightforward, using a smartphone and a “if this then that” style workflow. It can be programmed, for example, to light up when a specific friend is nearby.

The bracelet can also be plugged into a computer via USB and developed on directly to create further extensions, using the Arduino integrated development environment (IDE).

The developers designed the project by working with groups of teen girls, who gave feedback on aesthetics and functionality.

The team has created two phases of prototypes already and plans a final round before testing and manufacturing begins later this year.

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Jewelbots is the brainchild of CEO, Sara Chipps, and COO, Brooke Moreland, who set out to “inspire a deep curiosity and lasting love for computers and programming” using the devices.

The pair say they hope to get girls to “[open] their minds to science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] at an age when many lose interest.

I love the idea of Jewelbots. It’s a tangible way to pique girls’ interest in coding and offers a path to getting them hooked. I know from first-hand experience that there’s nothing quite like coding something that can be touched and used in the real world.

The company also hosted ‘Bring Your Daughter To Hack‘ Events in New York and San Francisco las month, where kids were able to build their own wearables.

A single Jewelbot starts at $59 with a pack of two costing $89. They won’t ship until March 2016 and reward tiers are limited, so you’ll have to get in fast if you’re interested.

Learning Algebra Through Making Video Games

The Modesto Bee
BY NAN AUSTIN NAUSTIN@MODBEE.COM
04/02/2015
Characters scurrying around homemade video games are taking Mountain View Middle School students to the next level – in algebra.

Eighth-grade math teacher Carrie Silva uses Bootstrap, an algebraic video game programming tool, to imprint such concepts as the Pythagorean theorem and how to calculate a slope. Wednesday, parents got to see what their kids dreamed up and put in virtual motion.

“He’s been talking about this since the open house,” said Rebecca Mendoza. Her son dived into the project, she added. “It was a lot of work.”

Angel Mendoza created a hot-pursuit game in which police chase a “loser” thief – “still living with his mom at 47” – and a bag of money. Angel liked having a stealth math lesson embedded in the game Silva used. “She made it really fun,” he said.

To shift his game pieces into action, Angel had to give them coordinates to move between. In regular math class, plotting points on the x axis and y axis is taught with a lecture. In programming, that algebraic mapping system is a tool in play, navigated with precision and hours of unnoticed practice.

“It taught them the distance formula, which is huge in eighth grade. They learned domain and range, understanding functions. This just took functions to a whole new level,” Silva said.

She found the Bootstrap site while researching new lesson plans for Common Core’s integrated approach to math. Starting in sixth grade, the state standards mix geometry, algebra and trigonometry through increasingly complex problems, rather than having separate years for each. The change means students can tackle real world problems in class, not just worksheets, and made the programming exercise a good fit.

“The best part was them being excited about the math and wanting to get the math so they could make their games,” she said. State testing on the new math program has not started in the Chatom Union School District, but Silva said she believes the kids will do well.

“They’re already using academic vocabulary. They’re throwing all those words around, where before I had to force them to use it. It’s like programming made it cool,” she said.
“I love the use of academic language,” said Chatom Superintendent Cherise Olvera after an in-depth student explanation of graphing coordinates.

“Coordinates,” “quadrants,” “scale,” “dilation,” “x axis” and “square root” flew without students giving them a thought, except to check if they had lost their parents in the math. There were a few blank looks, but the smiles stayed firmly in place.

“I’m glad they had this and we’re seeing the video games together,” said mom Liz Erb. “They all did great. Mrs. Silva kept them interested and it was good.”

Principal Monica Schut said the program got students excited about math. “They really see the connection between doing work in class and in the real world,” she said.

Students, showing their projects in groups of two or three, said the games gave them a new appreciation for the multilevel, 3-D masterworks they buy.

“This took us two weeks,” said Allison Nunes, pointing to her group’s simple game in which character “Grandma Foster” chases an object, “Sir Fluffy” the cat, across a road while avoiding a car, the game’s danger.

All the games had much the same format: character, object and danger moving around a small playing area. In the student-created games, Chuck Norris rides a sea turtle into battle against North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and a hippo chases a zebra to get a magic apple, but there is nothing silly about the algebra.

Math homework makes more sense because of what he’s learned in programming, said eighth-grader Davis Vieira. “It seems a lot easier because of what we have to do in the game,” he said.

See the games at http://mrssilva8.weebly.com/projects.html.

Read more here: http://www.modbee.com/news/local/education/article17261747.html#storylink=cpy

A New Paradigm for Accountability: The Joy of Learning

Posted: 11/12/2014 

Now that we have endured more than a dozen long years of No Child Left Behind and five fruitless, punitive years of Race to the Top, it is clear that they both failed. They relied on carrots and sticks and ignored intrinsic motivation. They crushed children’s curiosity instead of cultivating it.* They demoralized schools. They disrupted schools and communities without improving children’s education.

We did not leave no child behind. The same children who were left behind in 2001-02 are still left behind. Similarly, Race to the Top is a flop. The Common Core tests are failing most students, and we are nowhere near whatever the “Top” is. If a teacher gave a test, and 70% of the students failed, we would say she was not competent, tested what was not taught, didn’t know her students. The Race turns out to be NCLB with a mask. NCLB on steroids. NCLB 2.0.

Whatever you call it, RTTT has hurt children, demoralized teachers, closed community schools, fragmented communities, increased privatization, and doubled down on testing.

I have an idea for a new accountability system that relies on different metrics. We begin by dropping standardized test scores as measures of quality or effectiveness. We stop labeling, ranking, and rating children, teachers, and schools. We use tests only when needed for diagnostic purposes, not for comparing children to their peers, not to find winners and losers. We rely on teachers to test their students, not corporations.

The new accountability system would be called No Child Left Out. The measures would be these:

How many children had the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument?

How many children had the chance to play in the school band or orchestra?

How many children participated in singing, either individually or in the chorus or a glee club or other group?

How many public performances did the school offer?

How many children participated in dramatics?

How many children produced documentaries or videos?

How many children engaged in science experiments? How many started a project in science and completed it?

How many children learned robotics?

How many children wrote stories of more than five pages, whether fiction or nonfiction?

How often did children have the chance to draw, paint, make videos, or sculpt?

How many children wrote poetry? Short stories? Novels? History research papers?

How many children performed service in their community to help others?

How many children were encouraged to design an invention or to redesign a common item?

How many students wrote research papers on historical topics?

Can you imagine an accountability system whose purpose is to encourage and recognize creativity, imagination, originality, and innovation? Isn’t this what we need more of?

Well, you can make up your own metrics, but you get the idea. Setting expectations in the arts, in literature, in science, in history, and in civics can change the nature of schooling. It would require far more work and self-discipline than test prep for a test that is soon forgotten.

My paradigm would dramatically change schools from Gradgrind academies to halls of joy and inspiration, where creativity, self-discipline, and inspiration are nurtured, honored, and valued.

This is only a start. Add your own ideas. The sky is the limit. Surely we can do better than this era of soul-crushing standardized testing.

*Kudos to Southold Elementary School in Long Island, where these ideas were hatched as I watched the children’s band playing a piece they had practiced.

The Value of the Designer Who Codes

Inc.com

There’s a new breed of tech experts out there, and they’re poised to take over design and engineering at the most innovative of start-ups.
Quora leadership team, from left: Charlie Cheever, Rebekah Cox, and Adam D’Angelo.

“Well, it’s a start, but basically it stinks,” said Steve Jobs, telling early Apple engineer Chris Espinosa exactly how he felt about the company’s first calculator application.

Iteration after iteration, Jobs continued to be dissatisfied with the calculator. Espinosa continued to code, slowly inching his way to perfection. But nothing was quite right. In a flash of both brilliance and perhaps frustration, Espinosa put together a visual builder that let Jobs design the calculator himself by changing the thickness of the lines, the size of the buttons, the shading, and the background, without doing too much technical tinkering. He dubbed it “The Steve Jobs Roll-Your-Own Calculator Construction Set.”

After about 10 minutes, Jobs had dialed in to his perfection. This version of the calculator application was shipped with Mac OS for 15 years.

This was a story about two people. But imagine how powerful it would be if it were about one. What if the design vision of Steve Jobs could be in the same brain as the engineering excellence of Chris Espinosa?

It’s no mistake that this is very much the sort of thing that is most valued within the most effective software teams in Silicon Valley. Let’s call it “the designer who codes.” This is the sort of person can build exactly what he knows people need, with an aesthetic that compliments its use, with no back-and-forth.

Silicon Valley start-up Quora does it this way to great effect. They take the process simplicity to the next level. Every person on lead designer Rebekah Cox’s team is also an engineer. The design doesn’t happen in Photoshop. It happens in the text editor, in code.

“Knowing the technology better means more productive arguments when there are disagreements because everyone speaks the same language,” says Cox.

They’re not the only ones. Unsurprisingly, Facebook (where Cox started her career as a product design lead) has been running its design team in the same way for years. Unlike most software companies where day-to-day and detailed product decisions are made by product managers with business backgrounds, Mark Zuckerberg’s design team is his imperial guard. They work closer to him than any other discipline in the company.

The powerful fusion of great design, great engineering, and real authority in the hands of those people, results in magical user experiences. As we have seen over and over again, this simple dynamic creates truly great products.