I arrived in San Francisco following about seven hours of air travel, checked in to my hotel and made my way to the Moscone West convention center. After registering, I was warmly greeted by Infosys exec Kaustav Mitra and introduced to attendees from the Alabama and California departments of education and also Creighton University professor and CSTA board member, David Reed.
Infosys Foundation USA hosted an opening reception at a nearby art gallery with food served from a local food truck restauranteur. Foundation trustee and Code.org board member, Vandana Sikka, kicked off the festivities with some thoughts about the conference and her foundation’s mission. Although the food was quite good, the highlight was the networking (and I say this as an unrepentant introvert who doesn’t normally go for that kind of thing).
Next, I met Hal Speed, the founder of CS4TX, a coalition of business leaders, parents and educators who are working to bring computer science education to every student in Texas. Hal was recently named the Head of North America for the Micro:bit Education Foundation. Micro:Bit combines a small and inexpensive micro computer with a web browser-based programing platform. The initiative is a partnership between the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and a number of other organizations. They’re doing some really cool things with online instruction, for example BBC Live Lessons that tie-in with the Doctor Who series (shown at top). If you haven’t checked out the micro:bit, I encourage you to get your hands on one. You can buy them online right now from various UK-based websites. Hopefully, soon, domestic resellers will be able to often them, too, so you can forgo the international shipping. I’m eager to see what the micro:bit team has in store for the USA. Their product is a lot of fun and a great introduction to coding and microcontrollers. They also gave free micro:bit kits to all attendees. Nice!
I had an interesting chat with John Pearce, the founder of Family Code Night, a CS initiative targeting K-5 students. Pearce created Family Code Night as a way to raise awareness of computer programming for and participation within families, not just among individual students. I think it’s a brilliant idea and, apparently, so did the White House, which included Family Code Night in the Obama administration’s 2016 Computer Science for All Summit. The Family Code Night website offers a kit of materials that can be downloaded for free to help schools organize, promote and operate their own Family Code Night events.
Finally, I met Deanne Bell, the founder and CEO of Future Engineers, a K-12 initiative to encourage greater interest in pursuing engineering careers and STEM learning. Future Engineers hosts engineering challenges in partnership with NASA and the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) Foundation as a joint commitment to the Obama administration’s White House Maker Initiative. Bell has a background in mechanical engineering and worked at Raytheon on a variety of projects, which included the design of FLIR (forward looking infrared units) for helicopters and the design and development of an optical test bench for a Synthetic Aperture Ladar (SAL). Whatever that means! Her experience alone would be enough to impress just about anyone, but Bell is also an entertainment personality. She hosts CNBC’s “Make Me a Millionaire Inventor” television show and, prior to that, shows on PBS, ESPN, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and DIY Network.
I left the reception humbled by the sheer amount of brain power, entrepreneurial activity and accomplishments of the people gathered for the Crossroads conference. Many of the conference attendees were also slated to participate in panel discussions the next day, and I was eager to hear their thoughts about computer science and maker education in greater detail.
Here’s a video from the launch of the BBC micro:bit. (Note the background music – “Ride to Harlem, Hollywood… Jackson, Mississippi. If we show up, we gonna show out. Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.”)
Photo (top): The view from the Moscone West Convention Center. Note the Children’s Creativity Museum. Photo by the author.