Last weekend, I had a blast hanging out with a bunch of folks looking to combine their love for crafting and sewing with technology. In the photo, a member gives an interesting talk on Arduino basics. He holds the guts of his animatronic cat tail as an example project. Other members were working on a stuffed animal that giggles when you shake it but screams when dropped on the floor, crazy animated cat toys, blinky costumes, controller gloves made from conductive fabric, you name it. And the backgrounds represented there were equally diverse: sewing, programming, and electronics obviously, but also communications, acupuncture, education, music, architecture…love it! This is how tech should be.
I met some incredibly creative men and women throughout the afternoon. The conversation flowed seamlessly between topics ranging from what is missing in bicycle clothing for women to the best embedded platforms for garment based projects, to new approaches in science education that would attract more women and underrepresented groups to the discipline. So inspiring!
To top off a perfect day, towards the end of the event I met Ayori, one of the creators of Oakland’s recent Startup Weekend covered on KQED’s Newsroom, which is how I heard about it. She is an amazing, gifted technical woman who takes action in our community to include underrepresented groups in technology entrepreneurship. She totally gets it. She shares the belief that we need to provide students with context to truly engage with math and science. To that end, she is using music as a way to educate young people about math at an event she designed for Oakland’s Drop Beats Music Crawl. She spotted my MaKey MaKey Banana Piano activity when I was sharing it at the meetup and got really excited about including it in her Drop Beats program. So, we are working together on adding it! It is going to be perfect. Can’t wait to see what she comes up with!
Readers: do you have any ideas of how to increase diversity in tech? What’s missing in math and science education?
Over the weekend, Nathan, my friend Timnit and I were lucky enough to host a hands-on learning activity at this year’s Sciimpact Conference on the UC Berkeley campus. The day long event brings together about 140 students from underserved bay area high schools to participate in a variety of science based breakout experiments, everything from making ice cream with liquid nitrogen to touching a human brain! All of the project based activities are designed by real life engineers and researchers to be interactive and fun with the goal of building student confidence and interest.
This was our second year running our MaKey MaKey based activity where we introduce circuit basics through creative human computer interface design. The MaKey MaKey board makes it possible to turn many mildly conductive everyday objects into touch interfaces. Those inputs are converted into keyboard presses, empowering users to invent unique controls for a wide range of computer applications like games and musical instruments.
Everyone loves the “Banana Piano” and who can stop smiling when playing a marshmallow drum kit? Or play-doh controlled Pac Man for that matter? It is really great to see the kids drop their guard and any reservations they had about electronics. We might have to bring some external speakers next time to hear over all of the laughing!
Some things stuck with us upon reflection. We watched hesitant students benefit from subtle encouragement provided by their attentive teachers. We witnessed young women coming out of their shells when in all female groups, as opposed to mixed gender groups. We observed more overall student excitement and energy this year when the program consisted of almost all hands-on projects as compared to last year’s 50/50 split between presentations and hands-on. Sciimpact offers a lot of insight for educators about how to truly engage students in science and ultimately attract a bigger and more diverse group of students to STEM careers. Education policy makers need to take notice. This would be a good place to start.
The day was a blast and we had a hard time coming down from all the excitement. By bedtime, I crashed hard, exhausted. As my head hit the pillow, I felt great appreciation for the tremendous effort teachers deliver every day.