The conference’s second day consisted of a full day of panel discussions from representatives of K-12 and higher education, non-profits and state governments. The sessions ran from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with three sessions going on simultaneously during each block, making for some very tough decisions. Fortunately, the organizers recorded each session and will be making  the videos available online at a later date so I can catch up on what I missed.

I decided to start the day off with two sessions focused on maker education. The first session was moderated by Matt Richardson, the executive director of  North America for the Raspberry Pi Foundation. (See my interview with Matt Richardson on the Maris, West & Baker blog. Panelists included Dave Wolber, who runs the University of San Francisco’s Democratize Computing Lab; Jie Qi a doctoral candidate in the MIT Media Lab Responsive Environments Group and the co-founder and creative director of Chibitronics; and Alissa Bushnell, who is the co-founder of Tools Camp. Bushnell has a career in Silicon Valley tech that includes being the first beta tester for Pong. (Her father is Nolan Bushnell, often cited as “The Father of the Video Game Industry” and best known as the founder of Atari and the Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater chain.

Near the beginning of the session, Bushnell discussed the need for young people to learn how to use tools beyond modern-day technologies, relating the story of a 10-year old boy who didn’t know how to use a screwdriver. (This one struck home  – time to get a screwdriver in my son’s hands.) Her Tools Camp, a summer camp held at a private ranch in rural Sonoma County, California, introduces young students to tools, starting with Native American grinding stones then graduating to pulleys, levers, hammers, screwdrivers and soldering irons. She talked a little about growing up in a family of makers, saying “you never knew if the toaster was going to work” because family members would often borrow electrical components for their various projects.

Dave Wolber talked about the need to broaden interest in computer science beyond the traditional “puzzle solvers” naturally drawn to the field. Wolber teaches courses at USF and has written a book App Inventor: Create Your Own Android App that focus on teaching app development for non-CS majors. According to Wolber, university level CS pathways too often “pound the creativity out of” all but the most interested and dedicated students. He is working to interject greater creativity and community into app develop process by helping students learn MIT App Inventor, a free online resource for developing Android apps.

The moderator, Matt Richardson, introduced the idea of computers as material, not just a tool. It’s an interesting concept, particularly in light of the Raspberry Pi’s work to make computers incrementally smaller and cheaper. To illustrate the point, Jie Qi talked about her work at Chibitronics, a start-up which blends the low-tech world of paper crafts with electronics. The company offers a range of electronics stickers, including basic circuits, sensors, LEDs and a microcontroller, which can all be used for a variety of technology-oriented paper crafts, such as light-up journals.


Here’s a super cool sound-activated interactive light painting created by Jie Qi and John Clifford with support from Brian Chan.


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Photo: Makerspace der SLUB by SLUB Presse2015, used under CC BY-SA 4.0