littleBits in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua – a review of last years effort and preparing for 2016

This past January (2015) I traveled to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua as co-leader of a service learning class littlebitspaulpuerto2from Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3). While in Nicaragua we conducted 3 ‘maker’ workshops with youth from a local orphanage in Puerto Cabezas. These workshops introduced littleBits and basic circuitry concepts to 21 youth – 12 boys and 9 girls.

The first two sessions were organized by gender, an approach that was recommended by staff at the orphanage. These sessions gave us the opportunity to evaluate youth interest and capacity for collaboration. The third session was comprised of 9 participants (6 boys and 3 girls) selected from the initial sessions. This session was co-facilitated by a technology teacher (Isaias Robertson) who works at the orphanage school. The involvement of Isaias was a critical factor in the third workshop. His participation has led to continued collaboration at a distance during the intervening months.

Successes and challenges

The participation by 9 youth in the 3rd session is a small measure of success and indicator of future possibilities. These 9 youth returned voluntarily and expressed interest in continuing work with Isaias over the coming months. As of July, 2015 Isaias had conducted 2 community workshops with littleBits. Participants included some of the original youth from our January workshops and new community members. During these workshops participants created a kitten with a led eyes and sound that used a touch sensor as the tongue, a robot with moving arms and legs and a butterfly with eyes that would light in response to sound.

The challenges faced in developing a sustainable education program around littleBits, and other technologies, are quite daunting. The most challenging factor has to be that of money. The average weekly salary of a Nurse in Puerto is $75.00 (USD). Introducing new technologies to youth can often be frustrating or disappointing as they cannot be afforded. Shiny new things, no matter how potentially educationally useful, are often impossible to come into possession of.

We were fortunate this past January to have raised a (very) small amount of money that allowed the purchase of some littleBits. This initial purchase was complemented by a generous donation by littleBits of some previous generation bits that we were able to take to Nicaragua. In all we left Isaias with enough to continue working with youth, albeit on a limited basis. It is our hope to continue this collaboration in upcoming years, with a planned return to Puerto Cabezas in January of 2016.

 

You can help support the upcoming workshops at Go Fund Me:https://www.gofundme.com/md7k49ms

 

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Creating Community with Technology: Why Making Matters webinar series

The ‘Maker Movement’ has the potential to re-energize learning and revitalize communities. Is it just a flash in the pan or will the Maker Movement continue to grow and infuse new energy into local manufacturing, agriculture and education? This webinar series will look at places and process of making, and how we can engage in this potentially transformative movement in local communities.

 

Introduction and Overview: An Introduction to the Maker Movement and its historical roots. We’ll discuss what the maker movement is, its role in creating innovation and community, and government support available to makers. This webinar will provide the context for other webinars in this series

November 12 11am-Noon

Making on the Farm: Re-use, Innovation and Tradition. Farmers, by necessity, have always been DIY’ers. The current reinvigoration of small scale agriculture, including urban farming, has paralleled the growth of the maker movement. This webinar will look the impact of making on the farm as the continuation of a longstanding tradition.

November 24 11am-Noon

Civic Making: Connecting Makers to Community. What is the potential of an energized and focused maker movement to help shape community sustainability and development? This webinar will look at making as a community connected activity by exploring an emerging 4-H program here in New York, as well as other examples of civically engaged making.

December 8, 11am-Noon

DIY Manufacturing and community: 3D printing, CNC routing, and More. New technologies are encouraging the growth of small scale manufacturing, in some areas. This webinar will look at some examples of a revitalized, small scale, industry emerging from the Maker movement.

December 17 11am-Noon

Contact me if you are interested in attending any of the sessions.

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A few initial thoughts on Distributed Making.

016f38f18d9a2dcfce77df5284e0e226499b2bb936Recently, I attended MakerCon 2015 at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. It was a packed day and there is a lot to reflect on. Two panels, in particular, stood out for me and I’d like to offer a few comments on one of them today.

The distributed making panel was one of the final sessions for the day but in many ways was an opening for many other conversations that need to unfold around making and its impact in the world. The session focused on the power of networks within the maker movement, and the ability to use these networks for manufacturing at a distance as well as sharing and collaboration. It also emphasized some of the challenges faced by the maker movement if it is hoping to have a real and lasting impact in critical zones.

Critical zones is perhaps a polite way to say disadvantaged, or disaster or war torn communities. But that is one aspect that needs to be addressed head on. Is making a cool hobby, a way for emerging entrepreneurs to prototype new things to manufacture or an emerging alternative to existing structures that can distribute benefits, technologies, etc…(I know it is not an either or but much of what I heard at MakerCon seemed to exclude or, at best, not point towards the potential of maker confederations, cooperatives or any alternative economic system that could arise from a truly democratized technology*). The potential positive impacts of a networked manufacturing process that could create access to cself made and modified tools in the field, on the fly, is (could be) a paradigm shifting innovation. A lot points to that becoming real.

But, even with an optimistic spin, there are major obstacles in the way. Costs, appropriateness of available materials, impacts and consequences of new technologies in the field…there are so many ways  new technologies could be used to replicate existing power systems, or increase imbalances, that it is difficult to remain hopeful. And, especially in regards to technology, we have seen the promise of (insert favorite life changing object or device here) to change the world as not much more that clever marketing scheme.

Even so, some of the stories shared by the panelists at MakerCon were hopeful, even if filled with challenges. David Ott (@d_ott), from the ICRC, grounded the discussion in the realities of humanitarian aid and the possibilities of making in disaster and war zones. The harsh realities were impossible to ignore, and some of the rosy hue of making faded. It may be wonderful to have a distributed network of 3d printers at hand, but if there is no electricity, if the printing materials are of poor quality, if roads are devastated and impassable – well, there is still some distance to travel in order to make distributed making of use in (I was tempted to say atypical situations, but really situations of poverty, disaster and war are more realistically typical, as sad as that is) critical zones.

Sort of on-topic and well worth checking outMakerNurse (and related to the other panel I found very interesting at MakerCon – look for that post soon)

*a long parenthetical deviation that merits its own post- it’s coming…

 

 

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Vector Transfer – The irregular podcast. Episode 1

 

 

Links to things:

Minecraft/bitcoin – one example: https://www.playmc.com/

Voxelnauts: http://voxelnauts.com/

Virtual Economies (book):  http://www.amazon.com/Virtual-Economies-Design-Analysis-Information/dp/0262027259/

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Technology in, for, and with community 1 | Fab Ateneus, Barcelona

Being based at a university, and working within the cooperative extension system, I’m always looking for models of community/university collaboration that exemplify a participatory engagement with citizens (Or, as some would put it- “stakeholder” engagement). And in our current era of makers and making, examples that integrate technology are especially of interest. And I always mean to preserve examples when I find them, but hardly ever do…until now. Going to make a real effort to post them here starting now.

Fab Ateneus, in Barcelona, is my first stop. First brought to my awareness by this great article in the Guardian back in April, it has obviously been lurking about in the recesses of my mind influencing my thoughts about making and civic engagement.

There are more examples, programs, place and people working on technology in, with and for community – likely many more than I am aware of – that I’ll try to highlight as time goes on.

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‘Making” in public

 

Making in public, with littleBits

Making in public, with littleBits

Last week I was able to spend 2 days at the New York State Fair as part of our attempt to get the Civic Makers program up and running. A large part of our time at the fair was spent talking and tinkering with passersby. Curiosity, and the opportunity to interact with technologies in a non-threatening and no-risk way, lead to a lot of experimentation and a fair number of questions.

And, in reflecting on this experience, I was struck by the fact that people really do want to tinker with, and understand, technology. It’s just that the opportunities to do so – for many people- are limited, at best. The fair was a fairly diverse audience and the curiosity and desire to play was not age dependent. And even though technologies such as 3d printing are becoming more pervasive, access to the technology – access to seeing and being able to ask questions – is limited.

I am beginning to think it is incumbent upon us – technologists, geeks, nerds, makers, et. al.- to do much much more making in public. And we need to bring the necessary patience and compassion in order to engage effectively with people and communities that may be curious but inexperienced. Democratizing technology is only an aspiration until we begin to do this work.

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Civic makers

IMG_0115Civics, for some of us of a certain age, might call up memories of somewhat musty school books, droning teachers and student councils. It is one of those terms that can seem endearingly dated in our ironic (or are we post-ironic yet?), cynical post-democratic ( we sure seem to be hitting the mark on that one) age. But it is far past time for us to reclaim civics, to reclaim the commons that we as citizens share. Some attempts are being made, some alternative pathways to a new civics are trying to be born, but it is an uphill (which in not to say sisyphean) slog.

But the systems that interlock and compose the civic sphere are not completely gone. And they are systems and networks and linkages – discernable even under the dust and corruption of non-use – which brings me to my reason for this post. The development of civic makers.

The use of our ability to teach others (especially, but not exclusively, youth) how to use technology to make things that exist, interface with, rebuild and/or reinforce civic structures and networks should be a primary focus of our work. This does not mean that we use civics, or making for good, or communities as workshops, as a bludgeon but that those elements of community and citizenship are present in our work and teaching. We must use our time to teach both the technology and an understanding of systems, of logic and processes that is transferable beyond the realm of technology.

Understanding technology and  using it to create can be a liberating experience. And in the past I have facilitated sessions where it was just that. And it is a wonderful thing to accompany youth on this journey – without a doubt. But leaving it there, as an experience that exists somewhere beyond the ‘harsh’ realities of the tangible world, is a kind of disservice. I say this as someone who believes deeply in the power of Minecraft as a tool, a hook, to bring youth into the world of coding and crafting. The ever-present challenge, as I perceive it now, is to use tools such as Minecraft with clearer focus and intent. Structuring learning opportunities such that we are very clearly teaching comprehension of systems and processes. Not in a lifeless and pedantic way and not even in any blatant way but as co-learners and co-teachers with our participants, discovering systems and networks and processes together as we use the tools at hand to craft and make.

 

 

 

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Snap together solutions

Modeling a solar panel control using littleBits

Modeling a solar panel control using littleBits

Last week we ran our first code to craft workshop with 20 youth from across New York state. They formed 5 teams and set about using the available technologies (Scratch, littleBits, Arduino and more) to develop solutions to a community issue or problem. This is the first workshop I’ve facilitated that began with an introduction to community. We front loaded the workshop with information gathered from specific communities and a session on understanding communities, and stakeholders. We ran the first third of the workshop without the kids touching technology. We learned and brainstormed and develop an understanding that technology as a solution has impacts well beyond the narrow focus of a designer or developer working alone to solve a problem.

There was, of course, not enough time to do justice to the challenge, but it was a beginning. And as the kids talked about their projects at various points there was always a concrete (in the abstract) user for their end products. I’m still reading through the session evaluations, but I think we’re on to something here. I’m sure it is not all that novel out in the big world but for us, for this session it is a new way of teaching coding and development with youth, and it was invigorating.

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From computer code to code of law: Enlarging the concept of procedural literacy beyond computing.

IMG_0436In planning for an upcoming workshop with youth I’ve been thinking more deeply about the meaning of digital literacy. Like any literacy, there are layers of ability that can be developed. And there are orientations to the teaching of these literacies – social contexts and goals (whether stated or implicit) – that can lead to greater or lesser freedoms when it comes to ‘reading and writing the world’.

Developing digital literacies that move beyond the surface, literacies that empower the learner to do more than just use a web browser or an office suite, lay the foundation for computational thinking. In this movement into a deeper understanding of not just how but how-to there is a transition from ‘reading the world’ to ‘writing the world’. In other words, computational thinking moves the process of coding from an isolated activity devoid of social meaning into the context of humans actively building the world (Vee 2013).

When you start looking into computational thinking you encounter the idea of procedural literacy (Mateas 2005). The original framing of procedural literacy has its roots firmly in new media studies. But I’d like to expand the idea of procedural literacy- maintaining its roots and ties to computational thinking but expanding its domain outward to embrace more of the world.

The impetus for making this move is tied to the very fuzzy thought I had recently about modeling political, legal, governmental processes using things like littleBits and Arduinos. As we have been discussing the upcoming youth workshop, and integrating a more clearly articulated framework of computational thinking, I keep coming back to the basics of logic – both computational and social (or human). Fundamentally I believe that:

By developing an understanding of code, and coding practices, participants will develop a procedural literacy that can then be used to understand, re-create and build a diverse range of systems, including technological, legal, governmental and social systems.

or, in plainer English:

Learning to read and write computer code can foster the growth of literacies across a range of systems.

So there is a skills development pathway that is a movement through digital literacy to computational thinking and ending in procedural Literacy.

 

References and readings

Brennan, Karen, and Mitchel Resnick. “New Frameworks for Studying and Assessing the Development of Computational Thinking.” Annual American Educational Research Association meeting, Vancouver, BC, Canada (2012): 1–25.

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (2013). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. Routledge

Ingerman, A., & Collier-Reed, B. (2011). Technological literacy reconsidered: A model for enactment. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 21(2), 137–148.

Mateas, M. (2005). Procedural literacy: educating the new media practitioner.On the Horizon, 13(2), 101-111.

Stevens Jr, E. W. Literacy, Law, and Social Order.

Street, B. V. (1984). Literacy in theory and practice (Vol. 9). Cambridge University Press.

Vee, A. (2013). Understanding Computer Programming as a Literacy. Literacy in Composition Studies, 1(2), 42-64.

Literacy, Law, and Social Order


Book by Stevens Jr., Edward W.
New From: $35.47 USD In Stock

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From Code to Craft – Open, appropriate, technology and the design of a new world – part 3

10900111_343478819172598_193884582881854888_oInformation and communications technologies (ICT’s) continue to change and develop at a rapid pace. Increasingly pervasive and networked (both socially and ‘physically’) ICT’s are largely black boxes. While there are indications of movements and trends that attempt to plumb the depths of these black boxes, by and large, most people remain unaware of the ‘mystery in the box’. Digital literacies, hard and soft, offer a way into understanding ICT’s.

The development of a robust understanding of ICT’s leads to an ability to deconstruct, reimagine, and innovate beyond the original boundaries of any given tool or technology. It is possible to see this process at work in communities surrounding the sandbox game, Minecraft. There are ways of seeing the world building, mod creating, and sharing within the Minecraft community as analogs for other processes that can/could have tangible real world impacts. The challenge is in moving from code to craft.

While there is value in knowing how to use software to build vivid and impactful worlds online, the end goal should be to teach literacies that help learners emerge into the world and enact change there. Building the world we want is an exercise in shaping tangible realities. Crafting a more just and equitable world may seem outside the direct goals of any digital literacy learning, but all learning should orient itself towards that goal. The tools and technologies of ICT can be powerful agents acting towards sustainability, creativity, free expression and on and on.

This movement from understanding to intervention informs the Maker and DIY movements, to a degree. But it is time to think about harnessing the energy of such movements towards concrete and meaningful impacts in the world. This is not to say that all activities must be socially useful, just that an articulated goal should include utility towards a more just and equitable world.

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