Today’s post is written and photographed by Tiffany Tseng. Early this summer I joined my grad school advisor Mitchel Resnick and Tiffany, who is a current student in his research group. I was delighted to get to tag along for a few hours on an enviable itinerary as they visited some of the jewels in the Bay Area’s making-in-education crown, along with their Danish collaborators. In this post, Tiffany shares her impressions of some of the spaces they visited.
As a graduate student in the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, I have the opportunity to collaborate with LEGO on many different types of projects. One exciting initiative they are cooking up in Billund, Denmark (where they are headquartered) is a community maker and research center devoted to understanding children, creativity, and making. For inspiration, my advisor (Mitchel Resnick) and I organized a tour of different maker spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area that engage kids in many types of making activities.
Our tour started off at the Exploratorium, where we learned about The Tinkering Studio, a place where museum visitors can explore scientific phenomena in a hands-on way, whether it’s constructing circuits from basic components or building a marble run track out of recycled materials. The Tinkering Studio also organizes Open MAKE events every month, where they invite guest speakers and run workshops revolving around a particular theme. In the past, themes have ranged from trash to toys to cardboard. Finally, they also host Young Makers, a network of clubs in which kids work on long-term projects that are presented at Maker Faire. Their studio had an amazing variety of resources including traditional craft materials like markers and construction paper, woodworking tools, and the smallest (and cutest) laser cutter I have ever seen!
Next, we visited the Mission Science Workshop, whose mission is to encourage scientific exploration, particularly for underserved youth. The Workshop originally started out of founder Dan Sudran’s garage, who was a hardware engineer in a past life. He kept lots of of different materials like fossils and electronic equipment in his garage, and children from the neighborhood began to stop by and explore. At that point, Dan decided to start his own space, and now the Mission Science Workshop works with schools in the Mission district of San Francisco and also hosts after-school and summer programs for kids. The Workshop has an almost endless supply of relics and provocative objects: old fossils, live reptiles, and taken-apart LCD screens, to name a few!
We visited a series of schools that consider making to be a critical component of young people’s education. The Nueva School in Hillsborough is a private K-12 school for gifted children. At Nueva, Kim Saxe leads the Innovation Lab, where kids experience the entire design process by designing and prototyping artifacts. An important part of the design process for the kids is developing empathy for others, so instead of designing objects for themselves, the kids are engrossed in designing for other people. For example, second graders design toys for the kindergarteners at the school and begin by interviewing the younger kids about their likes and dislikes. The Innovation Lab has an amazing assortment of rapid prototyping tools: they have a laser cutter, a Maker Bot, and a fully equipped woodworking room.
We also visited Brightworks, a new K-12 school based in San Francisco where hands-on, project-based learning is at its core. Started just last year, Brightworks engages children in a design process they call “The Brightworks Arc.” The Arc consists of three different phases: exploration, expression, and exposition. The entire school year also revolves around these phases, where children present their designs to each other, their parents, and their teachers in a culminating exposition. At first glance, Brightworks looks nothing like a traditional school: there are curtains draped from the ceiling, live chickens, and an entire city designed and built by the children themselves. But through this open environment, children are given the freedom to build and explore, and all of the subjects we expect from a more traditional curriculum are embedded in meaningful, self- or group-defined projects.
Next, we visited a few centers for people to stop by and make things. The TechShop in San Francisco runs like a gym membership where members pay a monthly fee to have access to a wide range of machine tools and rapid prototyping equipment. While we were there, we saw the laser cutters, water jet, ShopBot, and thermoforming machines all actively being used by current members. Although the making activities and classes are designed mostly for adults, the TechShop has some classes for high school-aged students.
Finally, our trip ended with a visit to the San Rafael Computer Clubhouse, one of many Computer Clubhouse after-school centers around the world where kids can come to work on both digital and physical-world prototypes. While I was there, I talked to kids working in Scratch and Photoshop as well as kids building with LEGO Mindstorms and basic electronic components. The Computer Clubhouse in San Rafael also hosts a Young Makers club, where children work to develop projects to exhibit at Maker Faire. I was inspired by all the hard work the kids put into their project and how excited they were to show them to us!
Of course, I’m only able to share some of the places we visited on our trip. If you’re interested in seeing pictures from all the places we visited, here is my Flickr set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ttseng/sets/72157629961488174/
The Bay Area has incredible resources for kids to design, build, and make. If you’re in San Francisco, I hope you get a chance to take advantage of them! And if you’re not in the area, these places serve as great examples for starting new spaces in your neighborhood that engage kids and the community in making and creating.
Editor’s note: Do check out that Flickr set, to get a peek at the other destinations, and follow the links below for more information about them: