On July 9th, educators and makers of all ages joined together to explore expressive electronics for Hack Your Notebook Day with NEXMAP, CV2 and Educator Innovator. With 17 participating sites across the country and over 340 participants in schools, museums and libraries experienced first-hand how using creative prompts, artistic practices and applied STEM concepts in a social setting can produce deep engagement and real learning as part of The Summer to Make, Play and Connect. We spent the day at San Francisco Public Library, hosted by Teen Center Manager, Cathy Cormier and were joined remotely by Jie Qi of the MIT Media Lab and Chibitronics, Paul Oh of the National Writing Project/Educator Innovator and Melissa Techman of Albemarle County Libraries.
8am – Albemarle County Schools – Charlottesville, Virginia
We started speaking with four different school sites and youth summer programs in Albemarle, VA in a Google Hangout. While many school districts have cut back on youth summer opportunities due to funding constraints, Albemarle Public Schools bucks the trend by offering summer enrichment programs in both town and rural locations, ensuring that all students have access to interest-driven learning experiences. We were especially excited about the inclusion of Hack Your Notebook Day because the reality is that there are still far too many youth whose families lack the resources to provide making and tinkering activities, tools and materials: access and equity is a huge challenge. Public schools are mandated to serve all youth in the community regardless of socioeconomic status, language proficiency and/or learning differences, so the more schools we can get on board, the more young people will be able to experience the authentic learning and pride of completing a hands-on project.
The Google Hangout gave students the chance to share what they made with a wider audience. They also got a chance to talk to Jie and ask her questions. Many young people never have occasion to engage a professional on this level, despite the importance of these pre-professional speaking and listening experiences. The Hangout also enabled them to get a sense of being part of a larger community of practice. Fostering these kinds of connections early on helps prepare youth for success when they leave school.
9:30am – Fab10 Conference – Barcelona, Spain
The Fab10 conference is an international convening of makers, thought leaders and visionaries in the Fab Lab network exploring open technologies and digital fabrication. FabKids ran paper circuitry activities using Jie’s circuit stickers, and we spoke with one of the facilitators, Clem Niem, about how notebook hacking and paper circuitry can expose young people to skills needed to pursue more advanced fabrication methods. Clem highlighted the types of logic-based troubleshooting skills required to design the circuits and make them work. He also reflected that there was some concern on the team that the older youth might find the activities too simple or perceive them as childish. This was not the case in practice—the FabKids team found participant interest and engagement held steady across all ages.
10am – Red Cedar Writing Project – East Lansing, Michigan
11am – Southern Nevada Writing Project – Las Vegas, Nevada
Next, we heard from a group of teachers from the Red Cedar Writing Project in Michigan followed by teachers from the Southern Nevada Writing Project. As the conversation developed, many common threads emerged.
Many participants commented that they began the day as skeptics; they were unsure how circuit design and notebook hacking could relate to each other. As they worked, they began to see parallels between the making process and the writing process: both are highly social and iterative. People instinctively look at what their neighbors are making and how they’re making. They see how others approached the project and get ideas for different ways of working. While some choose to create a new circuit project to incorporate the new ideas, others revise a previously constructed circuit.
Some also said that they were nervous at the start of the day due to lack of experience working with electricity. They weren’t confident that they could successfully hack their notebooks without having a firm grasp of the science before beginning but as they worked and collaborated with their colleagues, a light came on—literally. With each working circuit, their confidence grew. Frustration transformed into a productive state of confusion which then, with the help of others, became a solved problem.
They found themselves more open to the what-ifs and rigorous play. Play can have real educational benefits for learners of all ages, but is often overlooked in school settings as a legitimate learning activity after pre-school for many complex reasons. When we have permission to figure things out on our own, to not have to get the right answer right away, we have the freedom to discover and follow our own lines of questioning. This sort of learner-centered experience leads to high engagement, which was the final emergent through line. The majority of participants reported wanting to keep working, even after many hours. What educator doesn’t want their students to feel the same deep immersion and flow state when in class?
1:30pm – Maker Jawn at the Free Library of Philadelphia – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Our final conversation was with K-Fai Steele and the Maker Jawn team from the Free Library of Philadelphia, which provides creativity spaces for teens in libraries throughout the community. Staffed with artists, engineers and other adult mentors, Maker Jawn creates places where all youth can access important expressive and technical resources. K-Fai and colleagues shared things they learned while developing programming. San Francisco Public Library is in the process of designing a similar teen space, and so Cathy Cormier got to pick the Maker Jawn team’s brains about best practices. Drop-in spaces are great for ensuring that anyone can join in at anytime, but providing meaningful activities and entry points into on-going projects can be especially challenging. The Maker Jawn team shared how they’ve tackled this issue with success and how their own ideas about youth programming has evolved over time.
We learned so much speaking to such a diverse group of notebook hackers. It’s telling that makers of all ages and contexts described their experience in similar ways and with similar words—engaged, frustrated, successful, social, creative—begs for proper study of the effects of this kind of experience on participants, both short- and long-term.
There are still a couple of Hack Your Notebook events to come, so stay tuned.