(Civic) Making for Sustainability – Career Explorations 2016 session

(Civic) Making for Sustainability – Technology, community and agriculture. 

civic making logoHow does technology connect communities? How can the Maker Movement contribute to sustainability? During this session we’ll explore these questions in order to design and prototype technologies and systems for a vibrant, multifaceted community nexus.

Some of the issues we’ll be exploring include: sustainability and innovative food production, community revitalization and the value of technology and its role in forging community. We’ll work with 3D Modeling, 3D printing, Arduino/RaspberryPi , littleBits, pen and paper and more to develop solutions to our design challenges.

We are hoping for  a mixed group of artists and tech savvy participants for this session. Help us build a diverse team for this community focused session. Sign up today! #civicmakers

Trash or treasure: Developing a game for youth about recycling, trash and community health.

A short presentation about a recent student project in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. Our first attempt at creating an educational game, and an opportunity to learn a lot of lessons about what it takes to do such a thing successfully. As we are thinking about our next class and projects we will be integrating some of the lessons learned so that future projects can be even more fun, educational and appropriate.

One of our challenges comes from straddling three languages and understanding how we can best prepare students and our collaborators to effectively facilitate the experience. There is also an opportunity to use the project to evoke learning across cultures in order to let everyone learn, bending rules and roles to make both game and cultural boundaries porous. Which leads to thoughts about games creating temporary communities – which may not be at all durable or long term but which open up spaces for leveling relationships.

Should there be random events or some elements or randomness or surprise built into the play in order to unsettle us? Would that in any way equalize relationships? It might be more relevant to educational games designed for adults? This unsettling process? Anyways, a lot to consider going forward.

As an unsolicited aside - I refuse the term gamification (for many reasons) and prefer to refer the process this as gameful learning. Just an opinion, but strongly dislike the word gamefication.

Stardew Valley – first impressions.

It’s all over the internets these days – Stardew Valley is wildly popular. And while I am, at best, a casual gamer I do pay attention, peripherally, to games and gaming. I am an unabashed advocate for Minecraft as a tool for education. So, is the heat and light around Stardew Valley something that will be sustained, and will it lead to utility in educational settings?

Image from: http://stardewvalley.net/

Image from: http://stardewvalley.net/

I’m intrigued, at this point. Mostly, my thoughts have been around the economy at work in the game – when I’m not worrying about the passing of time or trying to make nice with the villagers. It’s an odd thing to be taken in so wholly, so rapidly by a game that seems at first blush to be just a game.

And being single player, at this moment, constricts some of the possibilities for educational use. But it’s hard not to imagine the multiplayer version being developed – sooner rather than later given the games popularity. And then – well what will be the dynamics of interaction between players and villagers…

And that’s a thing with Stardew Valley – it has this tendency to envelope you in its reality in a way that it does not look like it should be able to.  With it’s strictures of time and farm management – watering the damn plants can be frustrating when there’s mining or fishing or foraging to be done and villagers to interact with – economics and planning take a front seat.

There are, of course, a lot more elements to the game. I just wanted to post a first impression. And now I’m thinking about it’s extensibility – it there a pathway into the game system that would allow arduinos, etc…to connect, map data, allow real/virtual interactions? But that’s for another day.


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


‘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.

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.




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.

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.

Design and Technology Session with Teens – from 2003

Just a bit of archival preservation here. In 2003 we did a 4-H Career Explorations session on Design and Technology. In the past few years I have looked for, but been unable to find, the documents related to this event. Today I did stumble on them and so thought I would preserve the content here.

Session description:

In this program we will explore and re-design common technology tools including cell phones, gps devices, and hand held computing devices.  We will also take a look at the design process and the impact of users on design evolution. Maximum number of students:  15

Wednesday June 25

2-4:30  Information in the Palm of your hand: Exploring the design rationale for mobile information devices. During this period we will look at the evolution of hand held devices and explore evolution of their current design. Issues of form and function and the design decision process will be explored. Design teams will be formed to begin the preliminary design process for a new device. Design materials for this session will include paper, pencils and markers.

Thursday, June 26

8:30 – 4:00

Morning will begin with presentation by the design teams and discussion of their previous afternoon’s design work.  Changes in the design requirements will be made and a re-design session will begin. This will end at approximately 11am.

11-12 short presentation of redesigns and distribution of materials for the afternoon session.

1-4 transfer of paper based design to 3 dimensional model using clay and other materials.

Friday, June 27

8:30 – 12:00 Presentation of design by teams and preparation for closing ceremony presentation

Usage Scenarios:


| A mobile information device that connects you with your friends. This device would have the ability to communicate with multiple people at the same time and might have the ability to locate them, geographically. Communication could be textual, voice or video.

Scenario 1:

Susie, Luis, Emily, Alex and Phil are going to the mall. Susie needs to go to the Gap, Luis to Zumiez, Emily wants to Best Buy and Alex is going to T.J.’s. Phil is just along for the ride. While at the Gap Susie spots a pair of printed side zip capri’s that she just isn’t sure about:Susie wishes that Emily was here to help her make up her mind. How would ConX be useful here?

Scenario 2:

Wanda, Ray, Roberto, Dexter and Mitzi are visiting New York City. After breakfast at the hotel Wanda, Roberto and Dexter head off to Central Park. Mitzi and Ray hop on the subway and head down to the village. While wandering the streets of the village Mitzi and Ray get separated. Wanda and Roberto head into the central park zoo. Dexter is distracted by the game of 3 card monte taking place on 5th avenue.

Ray turns down Bleeker street and finds a perfect café. He wishes Mitzi were with him…..

Dexter realizes he has lost Wanda and Roberto……

How can ConX help?


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