Tindie Announces Education Initiative at MakerCon


Makers are great at making. That seems like a bit of a redundant statement at first, but when you talk to people who have made an item that they would then like to take to production, you’ll find that often they lament their lack of knowledge on how to take all the next steps after making their thing. Tindie.com has already established itself as a fantastic place to establish community and to sell your wares is hoping to help educate people on the process of taking your prototype to a product. Their initiative, called Tindie U launches today. They’ll be rolling out a number of educational activities such as their monthly hangout with experienced people in the field.


One of the interesting methods of educating that they are putting into motion is the ability to follow along as a popular project goes through the entire process of becoming a refined product. The ArduBoy is the first project you’ll be able to follow as they encounter and solve problems along their journey. This will be documented in real time as they go through the process, so you never know what will happen.

C Is For Capacitor: Adafruit Educates

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sy_G1oYRQmM&hd=1 When it comes to educating youngsters and beginners at to the functions and uses of electronic components, the material can be quite dry. Explaining amps versus volts to my 8-year-old son is much like getting me to read tax documentation. His eyes glaze over and I can see that my words are just kind of being reduced to background noise around his head.

Adafruit is taking an interesting approach to try to get around this mental roadblock. They’ve created a few learning tools to attempt to capture the attention of young impressionable minds. They started with a coloring book called E Is For Electronics, which is free to download and share. After that, they’ve been producing these adorable educational videos, going through each component and establishing a solid foundation of knowledge.

They’ve only done 3 so far, “A is for Ampere“, “B is for Battery“, and “C is for Capacitor”. Each component has its own adorable character and personality. You follow along in the video as Adabot, the curious robot, gets introduced to each one and they tell their story, covering their function and use. The videos are lighthearted and feel right at home with Sesame Street or Mister Rogers.

As long as they keep this production quality up, I say they take all the time they need to go through the alphabet!

VEX Robotics World Championships Opens In Anaheim

The VEX Robotics Championship is underway in Anaheim CA with 760 teams competing at all levels from elementary school (VEX IQ) through middle school and high school (VEX Robotics Challenge) as well as university (VEX U). Over 10,000 teams worldwide compete locally and regionally to qualify for the World Championships and they come from 50 states and 32 countries. I was there for an Advisory Council meeting, and got a chance to meet the founders of Vex Robotics and meet some of this year’s competitors.

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The Story of VEX Robotics

VEX Robotics is the brainchild of two men, Bob Mimlitch and Tony Norman who went to high school together in Greenville, Texas and then later worked together at a defense contractor in the same town. Bob was a mechanical engineer and Tony was an electrical engineer. They also worked together volunteering for local FIRST Robotics teams. Out of that experience as mentors, they developed a unique ability to provide tech support to teams, which led them to improving to the design and contributing components to the FIRST kit. Bob said that the two of them learned everything from FIRST, “not just as mentors, but how to become better engineers, just as the kids do.” They eventually decided to go on their own, starting a company and launching a robotics competition of their own, based on what they learned from FIRST.

The company they started, Innovation First, produced VEX Robotics as a more affordable and accessible alternative for participants in educational robotics programs. In addition to VEX Robotics, they also developed the popular HexBot toys, which are sold worldwide through retail stores. The Robotics Education and Competition is a non-profit that organizes the competitions and holds events like the World Championships.


As I understand it, there are several key differences between FIRST and VEX. However, there are students and teams who do both and while the VEX Robotics founders are aware of the differences, they also speak with respect for FIRST. In other words, while they are different programs that might appeal to different students, they share many of the same goals, the chief of which is inspiring young people to engage in the practice of STEM.

    1. Participating in VEX Robotics is not as costly as FIRST, and it doesn’t require the same amount of specialized engineering expertise and access to fabrication tools.
    2. Its mentors are mostly parents, not professional engineers.
    3. FIRST has a very small, six-week build window from when the kit arrives until the robot must be completed. VEX Robotics is a year-long process, which means students can build and compete iteratively. The new challenge is announced at the end of the World Championships.
    4. Teams are smaller in VEX Robotics, usually about 4 students, and this means that all students can be involved in the build process.

The VEX Robotics Competition has grown considerably over the past four years. Its founders recall everyone fitting under a tent on the ground in Orlando, and now it is held at the Anaheim Convention Center, which is one of the few venues that can hold them.

A Quick Tour

Jonathan Paras, a student ambassador from Pennsylvania, gave a group of us a morning tour of the different “pit” areas where teams set up and prepare for the competition. He came from a private school that had five teams and he estimated that it cost each team about $5K per robot to compete, money which the school came up with. Paras, who is heading to MIT in the fall, said that the VEX Robotics Program was integrated into his school. “The real benefit of the program was that students learned how to get a group of people together and leverage their skills,” he remarked.

We walked past teams from China, Columbia and South Korea, as well as teams from rural towns and larger cities in America.

Paras explained that the basic kit comes with a standard set of parts for construction of the robot, along with 10 motors and a central “cortex.” The robot itself must fit into a 18x18x18 cube. Each robot is inspected, examining its mechanical components, cortex and motors. Apparently, this year several groups from China had violated the rules by tampering with their motors, and the consequences were not yet clear. The components for building the VEX IQ robots are plastic and don’t require tools for assembly.

From inspection stations, competitors could choose to test their robot in practice fields before eventually going to compete in an arena. The robot must perform a set of tasks in two phases: one with a driver and the other autonomously.


The VEX Robotics Competition depends on volunteers for its success, engaging parents, teachers and others in organizing the event.

Joe Walker Middle School, Lancaster, CA

I met members of the Joe Walker Middle School Team. Cody, an enthusiastic 8th grader is the captain of the team. He will do the driving of the robot. Matt Anderson is a teacher at the school who got the program started and he had been introducing VEX IQ into elementary school so that his incoming students will have previous experience with robots. The school just got a MakerBot and one of the students, Cole, has been modeling the robot and printing it out, which could allow him to test new designs faster than actually building them with the VEX kit. Next year, Cody and his other classmates will have to take on the task of starting a VEX Robotics club at the high school that they will attend next year.

NASA Support for VEX Robotics

Dave Lavery of NASA spoke at Thursday’s ceremony in the large arena about the relevance of building robots for competition and why NASA believes such competitions are valuable and important. He said in a competition like VEX or FIRST, “you learn to meet deadlines and work within constraints.” He remarked that at NASA if you wanted to work on a mission that went to Mars or other planets, missing a deadline meant missing a launch window that might impact the project for months or even many years. There are limitations on the kinds of materials that can be sent into space, and he mentioned other constraints such as weight, volume and power. He said that you had to respect the rules, which might have been a reference to the teams who had not passed inspection. He said that NASA wants to hire engineers who have “experience working with a team, working within a budget, working within the rules, and working within constraints.”

Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand

There are 80 teams in Auckland, New Zealand, where it is practically a high school requirement. I met a team from Massey University, which Bob had called to my attention because of the way they “evolved” a design for competition. Bob told me that Massey had four teams and each team built their own robot, and then they competed against each other. After the competition determined a winning design, the other teams copied it, and then they would compete again. Through this iterative process, a design could get better and better, as well as incorporate new adaptations.

The Massey team’s robot had a full set of electronics, including video cameras and sensors.

Here is a photo of Hayden, Tim, Max and David along with Bob M of VEX Robotics. Dr. Frazer Noble was the faculty leader for the team. This was a fun group with a lot of spirit and expertise. They seem to reflect the international character of the competition as well as the enthusiasm of the many competitors.

I wish all of them well, regardless of who ends up in the Vex Dome at the end.

Random Acts of Making

I saw evidence of random acts of making — groups of students who made things that were fun and enjoyable, apart from the competition, and just to show off a bit. This Nerf-gun mounted on a Robot built from last year’s kit of parts was roaming the aisles.


Century-Old Museum Hosts Garden State Makers

Hosted at the historic Newark Museum, NJ's first Mini-Maker Faire opened on April 5, 2014.

The historic Newark Museum provided a perfect backdrop to New Jersey’s first Mini Maker Faire on Saturday, April 5, 2014. With over 40 maker exhibits, 80 galleries full of art and natural science collections, and a full day of workshops, the Greater Newark Mini Maker Faire was a hit with attendees of all ages.

Many homegrown makers came out to share their creativity at the Faire. Crafting from natural materials was popular, with everything from Japanese woodworking to hand-carved Scandinavian spoons on display. Attendees were invited to try their hand at sculpting stone, stamping wood, creating ceramics, and blowing glass. There were also opportunities to make your own art prints, to learn to crochet, to make a kite, or to bead jewelry. Many projects were family friendly, giving kids the chance to explore their inner engineer while building with Legos, marshmallows, K’nex, and more.

Making can be messy, but that's half the fun.

Making can be messy, but that’s half the fun.

High-tech projects were out in force, too. Robots were well represented, with Central Jersey Robotics, the Bergen County Makerspace, the Institute for Exploratory Research, and even Hillsborough High School’s RoboRaiders 75 FIRST Robotics team all on site with their creations. And of course there were lots of 3D and 4D printers on display making a wide assortment of projects — from funky bracelets to articulated hands and beyond. Exciting projects from local makerspaces were also on display, like The Orbital Rendersphere from the Hoboken Makerbar and FUBAR Labs’ under-$500 Power Racer.

From lockpicking to 3D printing, you could find it all this weekend.

From lockpicking to 3D printing, you could find it all this weekend.

The crowd was a mix of seasoned artisans, established engineers and scientists, passionate college students, and families eager to explore. “We were blown away by today’s Greater Newark Mini Maker Faire! So many fantastic activities for the kids,” said attendee Helen Demir.

After a solid start, there’s no doubt that the Greater Newark Mini Maker Faire will continue to grow, adding a new dimension to the Newark Museum’s more than 100-year history of innovation.

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Origami Microscope for Just 50 Cents

Stanford bioengineering professor Manu Prakash, PhD is on a mission. He wants to make it easy for field researchers to identify and diagnose dangerous microbial diseases like malaria, African sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis, Chagas and more.

To do that, he and his team have created the Foldscope — an inexpensive, disposable paper microscope that uses tiny spherical lenses. In addition to a low price point of 50 cents, the Foldscope is remarkably durable, waterproof and adaptable, weighs just under 9 grams, can be built in minutes, requires no external power and, since it travels as a flat, printed sheet, takes up very little space. It has the potential to be a game-changing tool in the world of medicine and microscopy.

“I wanted to make the best possible disease-detection instrument that we could almost distribute for free,” said Prakash. “What came out of this project is what we call use-and-throw microscopy.”

The key to the design’s success is the unique spherical lenses rather than the precision-ground curved glass lenses commonly found in traditional microscopes. The micro-lens is press-fit into a small hole in the center of the slide-mounting platform.

Once a sample is placed between layers of the paper microscope, the user holds the micro-lens close enough to one eye that eyebrows touch the paper. A thumb and forefinger grasp each end of a paper strip, the platform. Focusing and locating a target object are achieved by flexing and sliding the paper platform with the thumb and fingers. In this way, samples can be magnified up to 2,000 times.

Easy to use, with no external power needed, the Foldscope magnifies up to 2,000 times. Image courtesy the Foldscape Team.

Easy to use, with no external power needed, the Foldscope magnifies up to 2,000 times. Image courtesy the Foldscape Team.

Foldscope models have been developed for several types of microscopy — brightfield, darkfield, fluorescence, polarization and projection, so far. More disease specific optimization is planned. Prakash are also taking aim at education, hoping to inspire children to explore and learn from the microscopic world by putting the easy to use devices in the hands of students.

“A universal program providing a microscope for every child could foster deep interest in science at an early age,” said Prakash. “My dream is that someday, every kid will have a Foldscope in their back pocket.”

The Stanford team is presently soliciting 10,000 beta-testers for the Foldscope, as part of The Ten Thousand Microscopes Project, funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Those that would like to test the microscopes in a variety of settings and generate an open source biology/microscopy field manual are encouraged to apply at the Foldscope website or by sending an email to signup (at) foldscope (dot) com. Kits will be shipped in August 2014 to the applicants with the best ideas for using and documenting the microscope use.

Easy enough for a child to build, the Foldscope may help inspire a generation of future biologists. Image courtesy of the Foldscope team.

Easy enough for a child to build, the Foldscope may help inspire a generation of future biologists. Image courtesy of the Foldscope team.

Making Stone Soup at the Raspberry Pi Jamboree

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This post coming to you live from the Raspberry Pi Jamboree in Manchester, England which is being held as part of the Education Innovation Conference & Exhibition at the Manchester Central Conference Centre this week. 

Today kicks off two days in Manchester celebrating the Raspberry Pi, and we talked to Alan O’Donohoe—the person who kicked off the whole Raspberry Jam movement—about the Pi and Jamboree. While the Raspberry Pi has found a place in the maker community, the original idea behind the Pi was to build a tiny and cheap computer for kids, and to reinvent computing education in schools, and the Jamboree is all about education.

Alan talks about the Pi as being the stone used in making stone soup,

Some travelers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travelers. Then the travelers go to a stream and fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travelers answer that they are making “stone soup”, which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with a few carrots to help them out, so that gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travelers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.

This is actually one of the better explanations I’ve come across of the Pi’s run-away success.

Maker Corps: Creative Summer Jobs Bringing Making to Youth

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Are you looking for a transformative experience serving communities, children, and families?  The Maker Education Initiative (Maker Ed) is now recruiting for our flagship program, Maker Corps. In 2013, our pilot year, 108 Maker Corps Members worked in 34 Host Sites across the nation. Collectively, they served over 90,000 youth and family members.  They provided a huge variety of making experiences and opportunities, while learning and collaborating with their teams and other Host Sites, and connecting with their local communities.

We are recruiting Maker Corps Members that will serve as mentors and role models in a variety of community settings. Corps Members will be employed at a Host Site for the summer of 2014 (exact dates to be determined by each Host Site) to engage children and families in creative projects that develop problem-solving skills, while gaining experience serving as community leaders.

Becoming a Maker Corps Member was the best decision of my life!”

Host Sites include libraries, museums, public schools, community non-profits, makerspaces, and colleges throughout the nation. See below for a map of Maker Corps Host Sites for 2014.

Spring Development Camp

Maker Corps Development Camps.012Maker Corps begins in April, with the shipment of “Possibility Boxes” to Corps Members, and our Spring Development Camp. The five-week camp includes a series of Google Hangouts, a Google community, and smaller Cohort Meetups, all geared toward building community and inspiring thinking about ways to best work with children to provide making opportunities. The Camp will also include leaders in maker education fields and last year’s Corps Members, who have earned the title of Maker Corps “Mentors.”  Development Camp continues throughout the summer Host Site placements for further support, sharing, collaboration, and inspiration.

“I loved the energy of the Development Camp. Everyone posted their work and ideas, and it was great to see how excited everyone was about what they were making. It was great feeling like I was getting to know people just by participating in the Google Community.”   

What Is a “Possibility Box?”

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As a foundational part of our Development Camp, each Corps Member receives a Possibility Box full of materials and tools designed to spark exploration, experimentation, and project development. In our pilot year, the Box ranked among the most transformative, inspiring, and community-building aspects of Maker Corps.

Maker Corps Possibility Bear

The Possibility Box makes it easy to dive right into making things, from simple to complex, from low to high-tech.  Contents range from inexpensive art, craft, and electrical materials to more sophisticated electronic components. Areas of exploration include paper and “squishy” circuits, sewing, knitting, hot glue creations, artbots, e-textiles, clothing and accessories, jewelry, robots, animatronics, Arduino and Intel Galileo development boards. A large amount of emphasis is placed on freely developed projects.  Most of all, it is an invitation for Corps Members to play, tinker, build, and discover possibilities.

“Seeing everyone else’s ideas and creativity was infectious. It was really valuable to see what other shared and it motivated me and made me excited to get making!”
Maker Corps Possibility BOX Projects A few of the projects shared in the first week of Spring 2013 Development Camp

Cohorts: Getting to Know Your Team, Collaborating with Other Sites

Maker Corps MAKE blog post pic comp Cohorts make the Corps even more personal, Corps Members are grouped with their future teammates and co-workers, along with others from similar Host Sites, to form small cohorts. These groups meet regularly to discuss and share ideas, respond to Development Camp topics and “big questions,” and have fun getting to know each other. Cohorts report their thinking and ideas to the larger community, helping to guide the Camp’s discussions and topics.

“Meeting with my cohort group was extremely valuable. Not only did I get new ideas as to completing certain projects or make them better, but simply the interaction with people who are assigned to the same project kept things fresh, new, and exciting.”

Making Connections, Making a Difference

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Maker Corps Members infuse new energy and possibilities into Host Site programming. They truly make a difference for their Host Sites and the youth and families they serve.  Learn more about the impact Maker Corps made in our pilot year here.

Maker Corps fosters collaboration, camaraderie, and lasting friendships among Host Site staff and Corps Members.  These connections, along with advancing to become Corps Mentors after summer, greatly help to expand future employment and volunteer opportunities.

With mere words I cannot tell you how much Maker Corps improved our programming this summer, and how much it was an amazing learning experience for all of us!Jeff Sturges, Maker Corps Host Site Mt. Elliott Makerspace We were blown away by the energy and ideas that our Maker Corps brought to us this summerCheryl McCallum, Children’s Museum of Houston



MCM Recruitment Flyer 2.02.14_Page_1If you’d like to help spread the word about Maker Corps opportunities, please download a Maker Corps flyer here to print and post.

About The Maker Education Initiative

 Maker Ed CoLab Tinkering Tent.002The Maker Education Initiative (Maker Ed) is a non-profit founded by Dale Dougherty, CEO of Maker Media, established to create more opportunities for all youth to develop confidence, creativity, and interest in science, technology, engineering, math, art, and learning as a whole through making. We want young people to join — and eventually lead — the growing Maker Movement.

Cognizant, Intel, Maker Media, and Pixar are Founding Sponsors of Maker Ed.  Cognizant and Google for Entrepreneurs are Lead Sponsors of the Maker Corps Program.

Whatever Happened to the Kano Kit?

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The Kano Kit was one of the runaway success stories on Kickstarter last year.

The kit consists of everything you need to turn your Raspberry Pi into a small computer—including the Raspberry Pi. The keyboard is custom designed for the kit with an built-in track pad on the right and can be held, and used, like a gamepad as it has two additional “mouse” buttons on the left. It comes with two books—walking you through not just how to build the computer, but also how to use it—and attempts to take the Raspberry Pi back to its educational roots

With the Kano Kit now available for pre-order for non-backers, we talked again to Alex Klein—one of the co-founders of Kano Computing—about their experience on Kickstarter, and building and designing hardware when you’re not really a hardware company.

Alex Klein talking about the Kano Kit and their Kickstarter campaign.

Toward the end of the interview Alex talked about what’s next for Kano,

…where we want to take you next is back out into the world of the physical, you know, we want to take you back out into the world of lights, servos, sensors and really start delivering on the world of physical computing elements. So we’ve got a lot of projects in the pipeline now, I would expect to see sort of—or at least have an announcement of—the next Kano before the end of the year, and the next Kano will most likely be an expansion on this that allows you to build a droid, a race car, a tweeting robot, something that activates the physical side in way that so many hackers and hobbyists have already been doing.

Makerspace in the Classroom


During my eight-plus years of teaching students in a makerspace-style environment, I have witnessed first-hand a surge of interest in problem-based curriculum from both our youth and their parents due to its ability to engage students and to help them retain the knowledge.

This is why the marriage between the classroom and the makerspace is so potent. It fills the gap between classroom theory and the physical world. Historically, sparse classroom budgets have been the root cause for a lack of modern equipment in the classroom. This made sense, of course, when an entry-level 3D printer could cost more then $20,000. Now, a derivative of the technology can be purchased with the proceeds of a single bake sale, or even through parent donation.

The beauty of the makerspace is its ability to not only inspire students, but to accelerate their knowledge intake through exciting and imaginative curricular application. In order to facilitate this, schools need to consider the design constraints imposed by makerspace equipment and how it might affect classroom layout.


DIYAbilities Teaches Maker Skills and Adaptive Technology


John Schimmel and Holly Cohen talk about New York City organization DIYability, which offers maker workshops focusing on tool use, collaboration, and assistive technology for disabled kids. For instance, in an upcoming toy adapting workshop, participants will learn how to solder and then will add accessible switches to their electronic toys. The group found inspiration in Abilities, Inc., a post-WWII Long Island military contractor and everyone who worked there was disabled.

John and Holly run down various techniques for making your makerspace accessible for those with differing abilities, including designing jigs to help members use the tools they need.